How 3 Universities Are Working To Increase Graduation Rates | Best Colleges

Many people who start college interrupt their undergraduate studies before graduation day, and some never return to a college campus. In 2022, the US population had 39 million college dropouts, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Colleges are trying to change that. Here are three public academic institutions in the United States that have implemented comprehensive reforms aimed at increasing graduation rates, which external research has found to have had some success:

  • California State University System
  • Georgia State University (main campus in Atlanta)
  • University of Texas-Austin

These undergraduate institutions are found in different parts of the country and vary in their acceptance rates and student selectivity. But one thing in common is that they all have large and diverse student populations.
At each of these institutions, more than one-third of students identify as racial or ethnic minorities, at least one-fifth of undergraduates qualify for federal Pell grants, and at least one-fifth of undergraduates are the first in their family to pursue higher education. .

Here’s what schools have been doing to try to get more students out with degrees.

California State University: focus on pass rates

The California State University system, which had more than 475,000 undergraduate students across its 23 campuses as of fall 2021, according to its website, launched a major overhaul of its undergraduate programs in 2015. The goal was to significantly increase its average graduation rates in a 10-year span.

CSU undergraduates who started college between fall 2012 and fall 2015 and enrolled at one of 17 CSU campuses that provided U.S. statistics on graduates had a significantly higher average graduation rate than students who had enrolled at these campuses seven years prior. During this period, the proportion of university students who obtained a bachelor’s degree in six years increased by almost 11 percentage points, from about 47% to about 58%, according to historical data from the annual survey. US News Best Colleges. (Six of CSU’s 23 campuses did not provide information on their graduate rates to US News.)

CSU’s Graduation 2025 initiative included several measures designed to encourage undergraduate students to complete full course loads and progress steadily toward a bachelor’s degree. The university also eliminated remedial courses that did not count towards a bachelor’s degree and instead began offering tutoring.

“This job is really about changing the culture,” says Jeff Gold, acting associate vice chancellor for student success at Cal State.

In a 2020 report, the Public Policy Institute of California urged CSU administrators to work harder to ensure undergraduate students of all demographics made steady academic progress. The report indicates that CSU students who took more credits per semester were more likely to graduate on time than their peers who took lighter course loads.

Students “with full course loads appear to enjoy a range of outcomes, regardless of their demographic and academic characteristics,” the report says. “Importantly, the analysis also shows that students who are less academically prepared, students who are the first in their family to attend college, and underrepresented students are, on average, more likely to persist, graduate, and graduate on time if they enroll in a full course load in their first term and first year.”

CSU courses that previously had high failure rates have been redesigned to promote student learning, Gold says, and CSU courses now typically include multiple projects and quizzes rather than one or two stakes tests. students.

For example, a mechanical engineering course at the Los Angeles branch of CSU that had low pass rates was adjusted to minimize memorization and include more frequent testing. The course’s failure and dropout rate has been cut in half, according to EdSource, a California media outlet covering education issues.

In 2019, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, or AGBUC, cited Cal State as an example of a university system that was removing barriers to graduation for all students, especially college students. most vulnerable, such as those in low-income households. .

Georgia State University: Micro-Grants for Students

Over the past seven years, Georgia State University has increased its six-year graduation rate for undergraduates by about 5 percentage points, from about 51% to 56%, according to data that the school submitted to US News for its annual Best Colleges Survey. . Twenty years ago, only 29% of baccalaureate students graduated there within six years.

In 2011, the state of Georgia launched an emergency financial aid system that provides crisis funding to students who are steadily progressing toward their degrees but are under-resourced and need $2,500 or less to cover their outstanding balance.

This micro-grant system was found to be effective in a 2022 research report published by the nonprofit strategic consulting organization Ithaka S&R and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report describes the Georgia State Panther Retention Program as “one of the nation’s pioneering examples of a retention or completion scholarship program.”

Financial aid isn’t the only area where Georgia State has been a pioneer, according to retention experts, who point to the university’s innovative use of student data.

In 2012, Georgia State opened a summer academy for students admitted to the university’s freshman class despite some weaknesses in their academic records. That same year, the university, which has about 29,000 undergraduate students at its main Atlanta campus, according to US News data, began using predictive analytics to identify students who were at risk of dropping out academically and began automatically notifying these students of potential issues.

In a 2019 case study, AGBUC described Georgia State’s academic interventions for at-risk students as “a model for other institutions to follow.”

Allison Calhoun-Brown, Georgia State’s senior vice president for student success, said a multi-faceted approach to helping students graduate is needed because there are so many types of setbacks students face. undergraduate students may face on the way to earning a degree.

“I would emphasize that there really is no silver bullet,” Calhoun-Brown says of GSU’s various student success initiatives. “Really, it’s a comprehensive program that encompasses induction and first-year support and academic support and counseling and financial well-being.”

Using its many predictive analytics tools, GSU ​​automatically invites students who might benefit from academic counseling to schedule sessions with student advisors. For example, people who recently received grades of C or lower in introductory courses for their majors or who didn’t register for classes in the upcoming semester would receive invites, Calhoun-Brown says.

Without these kinds of warnings, students with problems might “fly under the radar,” but now they can receive advice and assistance automatically and immediately, she says. “That’s the kind of thing that made a huge difference.”

University of Texas—Austin: Student Council

In seven years, UT—Austin increased its six-year graduation rate by six percentage points, raising the rate from 80% to about 86%, according to data provided by the university to US News.

UT—Austin launched a multifaceted campaign to increase its four-year graduation rate in 2011. A university task force created a list of more than 60 possible reforms in 2012, and many of those reforms have since been passed . A central component of the UT—Austin initiative is the use of predictive modeling to determine what type of pre-existing school programs would be most beneficial for particular students, so that students can be directed to those programs.

A 2019 joint report by management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group and NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, a professional association of educators, found that additional guidance at UT-Austin likely benefits all students.

“Importantly, our findings indicate that large-scale counseling reforms may have had an outsized impact on high-need student populations,” the report said. “Graduation rates for students of color have increased at about the same or faster rate than the rate for the general student population.”

Brian Dixon, vice president of enrollment management at UT-Austin, notes that his university helps students change majors if necessary. Strong academic guidance is needed in these scenarios because changes between majors can reduce the chances of graduating on time, Dixon says.

Like many large public schools, UT-Austin accepts college applicants into specific undergraduate majors. The university, which has about 40,000 students, now offers interactive tools to help students discover majors that match their interests or talents and submit a properly prioritized list of potential majors in their applications, it adds. -he.

“Without getting into the right major, it’s hard for you to graduate in four years because if you switch, you’re wasting time and all the courses you’ve taken (and) the credits might not all apply. to your new degree, so we wanted to understand all of these things earlier,” says Dixon.

How to find a college that will guide you to graduation day

Cal State, Georgia State, and UT—Austin focused on quickly identifying and helping undergraduate students facing academic or financial setbacks that could prevent them from receiving their degrees on time—crisis interventions that external researchers have found helpful for struggling students.

Undergraduate retention experts say college applicants who are worried about whether they’ll be able to finish college and graduate on time should investigate a school’s student services. A positive sign about a college is if it provides meaningful guidance to students in times of adversity or uncertainty, such as when students face sudden financial distress or when they are unsure about what classes enroll, experts say.

“It’s very, very important that students choose institutions that are intentional and thoughtful about this,” Calhoun-Brown said.

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