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Rutgers University – Newark among leadership group in national project to increase college student success

Rutgers University – Newark is part of the leadership team in an ambitious nationwide initiative to refine and disseminate strategies to help more college students complete degrees. Led by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), the initiative, Powered by Publics: Scaling Student Success, brings together representatives from 130 of the nation’s public, four-year higher education institutions that together grant a third of America’s four-year degrees. Key goals for the project are to graduate an additional 400,000 students with four-year degrees by 2025; work to eliminate graduation gaps for low-income, minority, and first-generation students; and expand access to higher education for students from all backgrounds.

“Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a real and growing enthusiasm among public university leaders to advance college completion nationally,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “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.”

Organized into clusters based on factors such as location, size, and experience in serving specific populations, the participating colleges and universities are focusing on the complex challenges of transforming practices in areas such as admissions, financial aid, instruction, advising, and student development. Rutgers-Newark is part of the “High-Pell Cluster”—a set of colleges and universities that enroll a high percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, which are federal, need-based scholarships for students from low-income families. In fall 2018, 53% of Rutgers-Newark’s undergraduate students received Pell Grants. RU-N Chancellor Nancy Cantor was designated to serve as “Presidential Leader” for this cluster.

“Higher education has always strived to serve the public good,” said Cantor. “To do so, we need to constantly be vigilant to reach the full talent pool, especially students from low income families, as income inequality in our nation has skyrocketed and too many talented youth are left on the side-lines of opportunity. We need to transform universities to orient ourselves toward the critical task of cultivating that full talent pool. Even at Rutgers-Newark, where we already have the kind of student diversity that many institutions will not experience for ten, twenty, or thirty years, we have a lot to learn. That’s why this national initiative is so important to the nation and to our university.”

Vice Chancellor for Academic Programs and Strategic Partnerships John Gunkel, who coordinates the university’s engagement with APLU in this project, is among those who have been working toward these ends at Rutgers-Newark for years. “While our students outperform expectations by graduating at a rate more than 13% higher than predicted, given their backgrounds, and we have virtually eliminated graduation gaps across race/ethnicity, we have hard work to do to fully leverage our diversity. We want to push up graduation rates further for all students, which can only happen if we continue to innovate in all aspects of the student experience, from developing methods to detect when students may be getting off track academically to responding quickly and supportively when students experience unforeseen problems in their personal lives.”

Other members of the RU-N team working on these issues, as well as with cluster peers, include Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Corlisse Thomas, Executive Director for Student Retention Anne Goodsell Love, and Director of Institutional Effectiveness Chengbo Yin. Other institutions in the High-Pell Cluster are Northern Arizona University, Northern Illinois University, Texas State University, University of Texas – El Paso, University of Texas – San Antonio, University of California – Merced, and University of North Texas.

Rutgers University – New Brunswick also is a part of this national project as one eight institutions in the Big Ten Academic Alliance cluster.

During the recent national APLU conference, college and university representatives spent a full day in facilitated focus groups to identify common gaps and barriers to student success, potential foci for intervention strategies, and common action steps. Gunkel came away encouraged by the cluster discussion on topics including financial aid, transfer student support and outcomes, use of data to identity and address achievement gaps of all kinds, and developing culturally aware practices and communication styles. “Working to identify promising common practices across institutions in New Jersey, California, Illinois, and Texas can be difficult because rules, regulations, and resources vary so widely in different states,” he said. “But there is incredible enthusiasm and commitment to finding solutions and ways to improve both outcomes and experiences for the students we all serve.”

For more details on APLU, click here.