On Nov. 16, the University of Maine announced its intention to take part in a new initiative called “Powered by Publics: Scaling Student Success,” which will be directed by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU), a research, policy and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
The goal of the project is to improve student success by encouraging accessibility, lowering the achievement gap and increasing retention rates. These improvements should, by 2025, allow participating universities to substantially increase the number of degrees they award.
This initiative will be, according to the president of the APLU, Peter McPherson, “the most ambitious effort APLU has ever undertaken,” and will involve 130 different public universities and systems, each divided into one of 16 different clusters based on region.
“On their own, public universities have the power to do remarkable things, but together they can achieve truly extraordinary results,” McPherson said.
By participating in this large collaborative effort, UMaine will be able to share data and discuss practice with many other higher learning institutions, therefore hopefully improving its understanding of what methods are effective.
UMaine will serve as the head of the northern cluster of institutions, requiring it to develop plans for information sharing and set progress deadlines for the other universities in the region.
“Participation in this national effort is highly desirable. Universities can learn from each other,” UMaine Provost Jeffrey Hecker said. “We have things to share with other universities and we will learn from our peers. Working collaboratively with other leading universities across the nation to develop best practices will help us to better meet the needs of human students.”
First-year retention rates at UMaine for minority, first-generation college and Pell Grant students are currently lagging behind those of other students.
The year-one retention rate for first-generation college students, for example, is 11 percent lower than non-first-generation college students: 67 percent and 78 percent, respectively.
“The primary focus of this initiative is improving success for students who enter the university,” Hecker said. “By improving student retention and progress toward success, the number of college graduates will grow.”
“We have not set a specific target for the numbers degrees we will produce by 2025,” Hecker said.
University administration plans to develop goals as the initiative progresses. In addition to improving retention rates, the university plans to integrate career advising into students’ academic careers to ensure that they can obtain a degree more efficiently and are better prepared for the workforce.
“UMaine is a student-centered university dedicated to ensuring graduates are prepared to be successful in the workforce,” President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said. “This is a multi-year initiative so there will be different areas of focus as the initiative advances. The first year, two foci have been identified using data analytics to inform advising and academic planning; and financial aid models that support student progress to graduation.”
While the plan is meant to benefit individual universities, it also has potential large-scale economic impacts.
The Georgetown Center on Education recently predicted that 65 percent of all jobs in 2020 will require postsecondary education. The APLU stated that “The United States needs many more college educated adults to meet labor market demands for skilled workforce and to remain competitive globally.”
“Higher education must increase college access, improve equity, and… student success to ensure that the United States has the human capital it needs to remain the world’s most innovative and competitive economy,” according to the APLU.
This initiative will be overseen by the APLU Center for Public University Transformation and is supported by a capacity-building grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
For more information, you can visit the APLU’s program profile at aplu.org/projects-and-initiatives/center-for-public-university-transformation/powered-by-publics/index.html.