Written by Alyssa Walker

Last month, over 130 public and land grand universities unveiled a new plan to improve college access for low-income students. 

How will it work? These universities will work in clusters -- four to 12 institutions --which will test out ways to enroll low-income students and get them to graduation in a reasonable amount of town.

Organized by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the plan is to create a "playbook" of reforms that other schools can easily replicate.

One of the biggest challenges that APLU universities face is stagnant graduation rates. Despite the best intentions, no one has really figured out how to improve them.

Based on recent figures, the six-year graduation rate for full-time first-time undergraduates entering college in 2010 was 60 percent, which is higher than it is for part-time students.

This, combined with significant completion gaps based on student demographics --black and Hispanic students, Pell grant recipients, and first-generation students --leads to sub-par degree completion rates and achievement gaps.

The issue is huge. The 130 participating schools are organized into 16 "transformational clusters" with over three million students. Although they are all public schools, there are differences in mission, research, science and technology, and urban and regional schools.

The program's goals? To award hundreds of thousands more bachelor's degrees by 2025, to eliminate achievement gaps for low-income, minority, and first-generation students, and to improve proven practices for student success.

It's high stakes stuff. These APLU schools will consider what student success really means -- and the value of a degree from their institution. Does a degree really matter? What degrees make a difference? What does it mean to help students develop skills for their careers and their lives? What does equitable access really look like?

Stay tuned for updates.

 

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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