Public Universities Help Low-Income Students Graduate


In an effort to help low-income students earn a college degree, 11 major public universities are joining forces. Together, these universities are working to share ideas and identify solutions to help certain students from low-income households to graduate college.

For several years, this has been a real concern for educators and while graduation rates have increased for affluent students, rates for completion have stalled for first-generation and low-income students.

In fact, the latest statistics show that upper-income students have a seven times greater chance of graduating from college when compared to those at the low-income level. Not only is this a serious problem for social justice but also for national economic reasons.

According to Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University and one of the 11 educational institutes involved in the endeavor, colleges were at one time seen as means of achieving social mobility but for some, they have now become more of a social barrier between those who have and those who have not.

Becker adds that Georgia State University is collaborating with the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) to resolve this problem. Just like the 10 additional institutions associated with the UIA, George State has noticed success in the past several years thanks to pilot programs designed to increase rates of graduation specifically for lower-income students. The goal of the UIA is to take programs proven successful and share them in ways to be applied on other campuses. From there, the programs can be nurtured and used as successful models.

Daniel Greenstein, Director of Postsecondary Education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation states that a few smaller pilot programs have been promising. Thanks to this new alliance of 11 major public universities, initiatives can be expanded on, scaled, and spread to other educational institutions.

He also states that things are beginning to work and while everyone is being realistic in the approach, there is no one-size-fits all solution. The most promising of all work reported so far is called “predictive analytics”, which is a unique data analysis tool used to identify students who are at risk of failing but also, what types of support systems these very students need to continue on the educational path.

For instance, if a nursing student were to get a “C” for a first lab science course, completing the program would likely be difficult for that individual. Unfortunately, many students would continue on with school, not realizing they were in trouble. With this initiative, students such as this would be identified early on and the appropriate intervention made.

Becker says that the approach is both “high tech and high touch”, whereby the data analysis tool helps monitor incoming data whereby students can provide feedback about someone needing to step in to help. In other words, it pinpoints when specific students begin to veer off course so corrective action can take place.

By using the data analysis tool, Georgia State University has noted increased retention rates for low-income students by 4% to 5% a year. The involved institutions hope to start using the same tool for students at financial risk by identifying those individuals who need assistance early, as well as providing the necessary support to manage finances and aid.

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