UTEP Participating in Nationwide Collaborative to Improve College Access

The University of Texas at El Paso is participating in the largest ever collaborative to improve college access, equity and degree completion.

At its annual meeting in New Orleans this fall, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) unveiled Powered by Publics: Scaling Student Success, a nationwide initiative that consists of 130 public universities and systems collaborating to increase college access, close the achievement gap and award hundreds of thousands more degrees by 2025.

“We take great pride at UTEP in serving students who are talented and have high aspirations for themselves and their families,” said Gary Edens, Ed.D., vice president for student affairs. “Unfortunately, we see too many situations where students have decided not to attend a university because of a lack of financial resources, not academic ability or a desire to succeed. UTEP’s long track-record of providing access to all students is an example for many institutions and fits perfectly with APLU’s desire to have a national conversation to enhance college access and degree completion. We are excited about adding our voice to this effort.”

The participating institutions will work within clusters of four to 12 institutions and will collaboratively share aggregate data and refine, implement and assess effective practices on their campuses. By working in clusters, the initiative expects to identify common obstacles between campuses and effectively work together to implement improvements that will advance student success.

UTEP is part of the High-Pell cluster. Collectively, the institutions involved enroll 3 million students, including 1 million students who receive Pell Grants – federal funding available for students with financial need who are working to earn their first bachelor’s degree.

Despite Pell Grants being an effective resource in increasing college completion rates, there are still gaps in graduation rates by family income. According to the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, the likelihood of a student from the lowest income quartile entering college is nearly 60 percent, but only slightly over nine percent for completing a bachelor’s degree. H

owever, at UTEP, 53 percent of students who earn a baccalaureate degree are first-generation college graduates, almost 60 percent are Pell grant recipients, and more than 51 percent of the graduates are from families with an annual household income of less than $38,000.

“UTEP has been nationally recognized for successfully fostering social mobility,” said Carol Parker, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “This is an extraordinary opportunity for UTEP to participate in and learn from as we continue to provide more students with access to the best education possible. One focus of our cluster is faculty professional development – enhancing active learning and evidence-based teaching to improve student progression. Faculty play a key role in student success and engagement. It’s a focus in which we continually want to invest as we build upon the success of the UTEP Edge, the University’s student success initiative that develops students’ assets through a variety of high-impact practices.”

The clusters have identified focus areas for their work. UTEP will work alongside seven universities to look at the various interaction points among students, faculty and staff to identify institutional barriers to student progression and address those barriers through evidence-based interventions.

UTEP will work closely with Northern Arizona University, Northern Illinois University, Rutgers University-Newark, Texas State University, The University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of California-Merced, and the University of North Texas. The institutions participating purposely reflect a wide variety of institutional characteristics such as student demographics, enrollment, selectivity and regional workforce needs.

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 – including those with limited resources.

The goals of the initiative strongly align with UTEP’s mission of providing access to higher education with a commitment to excellence reflected in rigorous programs that prepare students to make significant contributions to their professions, their communities and the world.

The APLU’s newly created association called the Center for Public University Transformation will oversee the effort. The center was established to help drive transformational change across public higher education.

“Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a real and growing enthusiasm among public university leaders to advance college completion nationally,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “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. That’s what Powered by Publics is all about and why we’re thrilled to work with our member institutions toward such an important national goal.”