APLU Brings Together 130 Universities to Increase College Access

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) announced Monday that it has broken ground on a new effort to lead and oversee 130 public university and university-systems from across the states as they test and refine “innovative and effective practices to advance student success on their campuses.”

“Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a real and growing enthusiasm among public university leaders to advance college completion nationally,” APLU President Peter McPherson said in a press release. “We have to seize the moment and mobilize institutions to improve not just college access, but also equity in student outcomes and the number of students who earn degrees.”

The effort, dubbed “Powered by Publics: Scaling Student Success” and unveiled at APLU’s annual meeting in New Orleans over the weekend, involved categorizing the participating institutions—which enroll 3 million students, one-third of whom receive Pell Grants—into 16 “clusters,” each of which will have their own area of focus. Some clusters, which range from four to 12 institutions, are made up of schools in similar regions, while others were grouped together based on their institution-type, such as the “tech cluster.” The California State University System and University System of Georgia are also each their own cluster.

“Obstacles to student success are often common across universities. Collaboration helps institutions refine and implement proven student success strategies,” according to an APLU resource page on the initiative. “Change is hard and there’s real power in numbers. Institutions can catalyze change on their campus far more effectively together than they could on their own.”

Tony Frank, president of Colorado State University (CSU), which will serve as the lead institution in the “western land-grant” cluster, said that his institution learned that “collaboration is the key” to helping students excel in school.

“Like all universities, we want every student we admit to succeed because it’s important to them —and to our world—that they do. We also recognize that we can work more strategically and creatively together as a higher education community to fully support equity and college completion for all students,” Frank said in a statement about the effort.

While the clusters are still working to define their areas of focus, according to the resource page, some have already claimed efforts such as improving student financial aid literacy to bettering the early integration of career advising. The overarching goal of the initiative is to create “a playbook of adaptable student success reforms that can be adopted and scaled up across a variety of institution-types—including those with limited resources,” in order to “produce hundreds of thousands more degrees by 2025.”

According to APLU, participating institutions will “leverage existing meetings to work in peer groups on their work” and clusters will “collaborate among themselves” to share what they have learned throughout the process of creating and implementing new policies on their campuses.

Sally McRorie, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Florida State University (FSU), one of 12 schools in the “south eastern cluster,” said that other institutions are looking to discover how FSU allows its students “to succeed at the highest levels, without incurring crippling debt.”

“We provide extra support for our first generation and lower income students, in both funding and teaching support. Over 60 percent of our students graduate having paid no more than $10,000 out of pocket or through loans. Other universities are interested in learning how we offer great education at affordable costs,” McRorie said.  

The initiative will be overseen by APLU’s Center for Public University Transformation, which will regularly publish lessons learned from the clusters to the “broader public higher education community.”


Publication Date: 11/14/2018

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