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University, partners mind the (achievement) gap in higher ed

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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has joined a nationwide effort that aims to put a college degree within reach of low-income, minority and first-generation students.

Powered by Publics: Scaling Student Success is a collaboration among 130 public universities and university systems. Its goals include improving college access, closing the achievement gap and increasing completion rates.

The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities is the program’s sponsor.

APLU President Peter McPherson noted in a press release that many colleges and universities have programs designed to help underrepresented student populations. But Powered by Publics will encourage collaboration among partner institutions to show what works – and what doesn’t – when it comes to ensuring students succeed.

“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,” McPherson said.

UL Lafayette and LSU, Louisiana’s two largest public universities, are the state’s only participants in the program.

Each of the contributing institutions were chosen because they reflect various enrollment sizes, diverse student demographics and differing admissions standards.

In a press release announcing the program’s launch late last year, APLU said the “broad diversity of the institutions is intended to help create a playbook of adaptable student success reforms that can be adopted and scaled up across a variety of institution types.”

APLU identified 16 clusters based on geographic locations, enrollments and specializations. Clusters include four to 12 institutions that will collaborate over five years to address an assigned challenge.

Topics include how universities use data to monitor student progress; financial planning and literacy among students; and if career advising for first- and second-year students improve graduation rates.

UL Lafayette is in the southern-central cluster with nine other institutions, including Auburn, West Virginia, and the universities of Kentucky, Tennessee and Southern Mississippi.

UL Lafayette’s cluster will examine ways to address financial barriers that often impede a student’s academic performance and completion of a degree, said Dr. DeWayne Bowie, the University’s vice president for Enrollment Management.

“One of the major concerns in higher education today is the achievement gap that separates minority and low-income students from their peers. You can’t address the achievement gap effectively without confronting the financial realities associated with it,” Bowie said.

“Powered by Publics is an opportunity to examine this critical challenge by working with other institutions that are as committed as we are to removing obstacles that might deter students from completing a college degree.”

Bowie cited national recognition UL Lafayette has received in the past two years that underscore its commitment to serving underrepresented students.

    It was among 96 colleges and universities to earn the 2018 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award.
    Also in 2018, UL Lafayette received mention in a Forbes.com op-ed that singled out several colleges and universities for helping students from low-income backgrounds thrive.
    In 2017, the Brookings Institution ranked UL Lafayette No. 9 among four-year, public universities in the U.S. for promoting social mobility.

In addition, the University launched the Louisiana Educate Program late last year to keep academically accomplished, low-income students in college.

“Our participation in the Powered by Publics program is a natural fit for a university with as strong a track record in diversity and inclusiveness as UL Lafayette,” Bowie said.

Photo credit: Logo courtesy of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities

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