Education

How the UIA has increased low income graduates by 29% (year on year)

24 Jul 2018, by Amy Sarcevic


In Australia, fewer than fifty percent of low incomes graduates complete their Higher Education (HE) degrees on time; and in the USA fewer than fifty percent complete them at all.

This significant, global problem, costs governments tens of billions each year in wasted Pell grants; perpetuates cycles of poverty; and leaves countries around the world grappling with a growing talent deficit – increasingly ill-equipped to meet the demands of Industry 4.0.

In light of this, University Innovation Alliance (UIA) has galvanized an innovative movement for student success – a movement which has, so far, increased low income graduates by 29 percent (year on year) in the USA.

Ahead of the AFR Higher Education Summit – 28-29 August 2018, Melbourne we caught up with UIA Executive Director, Dr. Bridget Burns, to get some insights into the movement’s approach and how it has already made significant progress towards its lofty goals.

Tell us a little about the history of the UIA

The UIA was founded in 2014 by 11 large public research universities to address the high dropout rate among low-income and first-generation students. This is the first time a group of large, public, research universities has self-organized across state and conference lines specifically to test and scale solutions designed to increase retention and graduation rates in higher education. Our consortium has committed to graduating an additional 68,000 graduates by 2020. We are working to regain the U.S.’s economic competitive edge by helping more students—of all backgrounds—graduate with a high-quality and affordable education.

Why does the UIA exist today? 

In the U.S. 50 percent of higher education students never complete their undergraduate degree. That’s a huge number. We believe colleges and universities can’t go it alone to solve this problem, and it’s important to learn from peers that you trust.

We are accomplishing our goal in three ways:

1. Identifying and verifying the effectiveness of new methods of improving student success rates

2. Taking innovations already showing positive results on one campus and transferring them to other interested campuses within UIA, with the goal of developing an innovation transfer model for implementation throughout higher education

3. Sharing and promoting good ideas by bringing our experiences, results, and recommendations to the broader higher education sector, policy leaders, and the general public.

Can you provide some context on the situation in U.S. higher education?

The growing achievement gap in American higher education will lead the country over an economic cliff if we don’t address these issues. And yet, innovation is rare within higher education institutions. The primary way colleges and universities share ideas is through publishing articles. Outside of the UIA, there is no meaningful and sustained method that infuses innovations from one campus to other another, nor is there a proven process to scale proven interventions.

What are the biggest breakthroughs/successes coming out of the UIA?

I mentioned that when we launched in 2014 we had a goal of graduating an additional 68,000 graduates by 2020. We’ve been tracking those numbers, and in my talk I’ll reveal our progress. Additional successes include scaling up innovations such as predictive analytics to inform advising, multi-department student success teams, process mapping institutions’ communications with students, and retention grants.

I’ll be discussing all of these breakthroughs and more during my upcoming talk. I look forward to sharing more about the UIA’s successes – and how others can replicate them – and delving into the specifics around how we’ve increased low income graduates by 29% year on year.

Dr. Bridget Burns will present at the AFR Higher Education Summit 2018 – to be held 28-29 August in Melbourne.

Minister for Education & Training, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tanya Plibersek and NYU Shanghai VC, Jeffrey Lehman are among the esteemed line-up of speakers.

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