Ask Deloitte About: Closing the attainment gap in higher education

By Holly Holliday posted 09-25-2018 08:21 AM


Improving graduation rates didn’t happen overnight

After almost 70 years as a women’s college, UNCG became one of the first universities in the region to graduate African-American students in 1960. In 1964, the first men enrolled. Recently, the university’s leadership challenged the school to expand the vision rooted in its history one step further and improve student outcomes for other minority students.

Over the past five years (2011–2015), overall completion rates have gradually increased with the largest gains among black and Hispanic students (Note: Data collected by UNCG, US Department of Education, and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System to include African and African American). The graduation rates for black students increased from 52 percent to 63 percent; for Hispanic students, from 48 percent to 53 percent. In addition, the gap between Pell and non-Pell graduation rates has closed to five percent, compared to a national gap of 14 percent.

How has UNCG achieved these results? As Deloitte studied how the school has worked to support students over the past decades, several themes emerged:

  1. It’s not a “hero’s journey.” UNCG’s success reflects the commitment of the entire university in supporting the student’s journey and creating an everyday “culture of care” that is evident among faculty, staff, and administrators.
  2. UNCG looks to continuously identify the resources that support students most successfully and deliver them efficiently.
  3. The innovation mindset extends to the community. UNCG values community partnerships and participates in a network of peer institutions that share a commitment to student success and continuous learning.

Creating a culture of care

At UNGC, progress has come under the watch of numerous institutional leaders, each building on the work of their predecessors. One example is the “Culture of Care” initiative. Training designed by Student Affairs prepares faculty, staff, and administrators to identify students in need and refer those to appropriate resources.

Once a voluntary two-hour training course is completed, attendees receive a “UNC Greensboro Cares” sticker to display on their door as a welcome to students who may need academic assistance or other support.

An innovation mindset

UNCG carefully considers how to improve every stage of the student experience, especially for underrepresented minority, first-generation, and low-income students. Even before admission, UNGC has developed programs to reach out to potential new students and their families. First-year students receive a warm welcome to the campus “family” and those identified as at-risk receive additional support.

The First Year Experience helps first-year and transfer students to develop practical skills for their first year in college and beyond. Other resources include the Student Success Center, which offers supplemental instruction, including weekly support groups, for some of the most difficult subjects.

UNCG’s commitment to student success programs is backed by its investment in data-driven decision making. The Institutional Research team works closely with each department to streamline data cleansing and reporting, and the Enrollment Management team has developed predictive analytics models to better recognize “at risk” students. These results are shared with all faculty, advisors, and staff who work with students. This information has been well-received by staff, who say that knowing which students may need more support helps them to feel more successful.

Looking beyond its campus

In order to continuously achieve its goals, UNCG realized that it needed to look to peer institutions for other ideas and is active in a number of national organizations. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) has a historic commitment to underserved student populations, as well as research and creativity. The school is also a member of the Frontier Set, a group of higher education institutions committed to increasing student access and success that is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Within the state of North Carolina, UNCG has co-agreements with six local community colleges to co-admit students who do their first two years at a community college, then transfer to UNCG, significantly reducing the cost of a bachelor’s degree.

The university continues to look for ways to reach more students and launched the Spartan Start Up Summer Bridge Program for the incoming class of 2018. This program aims to further increase retention of historically disadvantaged students through early exposure to college courses and academic support, a first-year experience course, peer mentors, and supportive faculty-student relationships.

UNC Greensboro’s success serves as a shining example for other institutions, proving that innovation and equity go hand-in-hand in closing the attainment gap for minority students.

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