This report was co-authored by @Julia Michaels, Executive Director for Powered by Publics, and Dr. @Denise Nadasen, DM, Assistant Vice President for Research and Policy Analysis at APLU. Please direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Obtaining a four-year college degree remains one of the best determinants of one’s lifetime financial success and job satisfaction. College-educated workers are also key to fueling the innovation and growth that distinguish our nation’s economy. Yet far more Americans need to complete a college education to ensure a thriving middle class. Even more alarmingly, race and class remain the most reliable predictors of completion, and equity gaps persist among low-income and minoritized students. Left unaddressed, these gaps will lead higher education to reinforce, rather than reduce, inequity. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even more dire.
Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that those with a high school education or less lost more jobs in the early days of the pandemic and have been left behind in the economic recovery. The disparities by race are significant, with Black women suffering more employment losses than any other demographic group. It’s more important than ever to help Americans, particularly those of color, access and succeed in higher education.
In November 2018, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities launched Powered by Publics, its largest-ever degree completion and equity initiative, to help four-year public colleges and universities collaborate to boost completion numbers. More than 125 universities and systems from 48 states – collectively serving more than 3 million undergraduates, including 1 million Pell recipients – signed on to the five-year initiative’s ambitious goals of:
- Producing hundreds of thousands more graduates by 2025 with an emphasis on underrepresented minority, low-income, and first-generation students.
- Cutting in half the equity gap by 2025 for underrepresented minority, low-income, and first-generation students while increasing access.
- Sharing key data, learning, and effective practices to drive innovation and transformation across the higher education sector.
These universities began working together in “transformation clusters,” highly engaged peer learning communities focused on addressing key barriers to student persistence and completion. Crossfunctional campus teams, appointed by their presidents and chancellors, examine the complex system of determinants that lead to student success, identified institutional barriers, and began testing ideas for improvement. The clusters are highly social, with members nudging each other to make policy and practice changes that lead toward transformation. Together, the 16 clusters are tackling a range of issues from affordability to student support services to teaching and learning. An equity lens and key data for assessing progress inform all focus areas.
Even when launched, this initiative was ambitious with no guarantee of success. The challenges of the last two years have made our task even more daunting. From the rapid pivot to online courses, the necessary engagement of the campus community in protesting anti-Black violence and racial injustice, and unpredictable disruptions to college enrollment patterns – these changes have demanded campuses adapt, often in creative ways. Examples of innovations abound, some of which are highlighted in this report. The campus teams participating in Powered by Publics continued to maintain their focus on retention and completion even while navigating the ups and downs of their daily workloads.
This report seeks to document the progress of Powered by Publics at its halfway point. It contains the results of two years of data collected by APLU directly from institutions. Most importantly, this report seeks to document the significant, but often less tangible, examples of progress and innovation occurring within the clusters. The work of transforming a complex system is never straightforward, and APLU hopes that these examples will illuminate our successes and opportunities as well as ongoing challenges.