Public universities are a powerful force in the U.S. economy. They stimulate innovation, meet ever-changing industry demands and enable us to remain competitive globally. They also transform lives through the socioeconomic gains associated with having a college degree.
Although the societal and individual benefits of a college degree are clear, fewer than 60 percent of America’s first-year college students earn a baccalaureate degree within six years, the standard period used to assess graduation rates. Completion rates are significantly lower for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
Industry demand for college graduates is at an all-time high, and virtually all jobs created since the 2008-09 recession require some post-secondary credential. But low college completion rates are holding us — individuals, families and communities — back.
With these facts in mind, American Public and Land-Grant Universities, or APLU, a leading national organization of public higher education institutions, has launched the Powered by Publics initiative. The initiative brings together 130 premier public universities and systems with a united goal: improve student success and degree completion.
The project creates multiple transformation clusters of similar institutions, reaching 3 million undergraduate students. This collaborative approach, rather than the competitive model that often governs many of our institutional interactions, is aimed at ensuring more people have access to and finish college degrees, thus enhancing the collective public good across our respective communities.
Utah is fortunate to have two universities participating in the initiative: the University of Utah and Utah State University.
The University of Utah will be working with the University of Texas at Austin; University of Florida; Texas A University of California-Davis; University of Oregon; and the University of Washington. We are honored to partner with this prestigious group of public research universities in the shared aim of increasing access to higher education and developing innovative ways to help more students graduate and enter the workforce ready to succeed.
Presidents in our cluster have already begun sharing information about strategic actions each has taken that have positively influenced college access and enabled timely degree completion. Even better, leaders in key areas at each of our campuses have begun forming teams to pilot and evaluate new strategies.
At the University of Utah, we have achieved noteworthy increases in our six-year graduation rate, advancing from roughly 55 percent in 2011 to 70 percent in fall 2018. While we celebrate this progress, we acknowledge it is not sufficient. We aim to advance our graduation rate to 80 percent. Participation in APLU’s Powered by Publics initiative will accelerate this goal, as best practices are shared across universities and new approaches are tested on a national stage and at significant scale.
The power of partnerships is a core theme in the APLU initiative. We will continue to work with political, higher-education and community leaders in our state on similar collaborative efforts to increase the college-educated populace in Utah. We at the U. stand ready to work with our peers in producing graduates with the degrees that they — and our state — need to prosper.