Iowa State University, in conjunction with ten other public research institutions across the nation, formed the
University Innovation Alliance
(UIA) to expand access to high-quality college degrees.
At the launch of the UIA in 2014, the White House publically recognized the UIA's ambitious goal of graduating an additional 68,000 students by 2025. Just three years in, the UIA has increased the number of low-income graduates by 25% annually and is on track to exceed its goal with an additional 100,000 graduates, half of these being underrepresented students.
Iowa State University hosted a data symposium
on Monday to increase institutional knowledge about what we have and have not achieved in terms of outcomes among low-income, first generation, and underrepresented students. The event emphasized Iowa State's commitment to student success, with emphasis on leveraging best practices across the university in an effort to close the achievement gaps.
"Despite all the naysayers... [higher education] is still the best investment you could ever make," said Bridget Burns, Executive Director of the University Innovation Alliance. "It's one million dollars more in your lifetime, and we know it is the only actually guaranteed, statistically proven way to get out of the poverty cycle."
A "data snapshot" of persistence and completion rates for Iowa State's most vulnerable student populations was presented.
In order for the six-year graduation rate for underrepresented students to fall within 5% of white students, graduation rates for underrepresented students would have to increase by 25%. Other groups such as low-income and first-generation students would have to increase their six-year graduation rates by roughly 15% to achieve the same outcome. As it turns out, Iowa State would only need to retain 20 more students a year collectively from these groups to close the gap. Twenty.
"These gaps, numerically, are not astronomical - they're small, manageable numbers, especially if we begin with those students who are at the greatest risk of not returning to ISU," said Matthew Pistilli, Director of Assessment and Research for Student Affairs. "Furthermore, the effects are additive. Over six years, we'll increase retention of our most vulnerable students by 120, directly affecting the diversity of campus and our classrooms. We will also graduate an additional 120 students."
Breakout sessions during the symposium covered institutional practices at Iowa State that have positively impacted underrepresented students. One example included the university's
90 learning communities
, which create personalized and intentional environments for students to succeed. Accounting for 7% higher first-year retention rates and 12% higher six-year graduation rates than students not in learning communities, Iowa State has been on the leading edge of this program for the past 20 years.
As each UIA institution specializes in various methods for improving student success on their own campuses, they are committed to being transparent with each other about successes and failures. Members learn from one another and leverage expertise to adopt best practices. So far, four projects have been brought to scale including strategic financial interventions, predicative analytics, proactive advising, and the UIA Fellows Program.
The symposium ended with a campus charge from President Wendy Wintersteen.
"We still have a long way to go to close the achievement gap, but today was an important and significant first step," Wintersteen said. "We have seen the data and identified the problem. The next step is to break out of our silos and work together to adapt, create, scale, and deliver programs that are an effective use of our limited resources and truly advance our academic mission.
As a land-grant institution, we still believe in accessibility. We have an obligation to ensure all students, regardless of their backgrounds or circumstances, have the opportunity to work hard and succeed. I am confident we can deliver."