Public Universities Find Power in Numbers

Kent State University is one of 130 public universities and systems nationwide that have joined forces to increase access to college, close the achievement gap and produce more degrees by 2025.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) launched the initiative, Powered by Publics: Scaling Student Success, last month. The institutions have pledged to make a five-year commitment to the project, through which they will share data and best practices.

“Individually, we have an ability to move things for our institutions,” said Eboni Pringle, Ph.D., dean of University College at Kent State. “I see so much more power in moving things for our industry and in us working collectively to see what major obstacles need to be moved. This initiative will help establish a stronger agenda and focus on those issues.”

APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities. APLU's 238 members, including Kent State, span all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, Canada and Mexico. 

The 130 universities and systems will work in clusters of four to 12 institutions, each sharing common characteristics, such as geography. For example, Kent State is in the Northern Cluster, and Cleveland State University is in the Urban Cluster.

The Northern Cluster had its first meeting Nov. 10. Dean Pringle, Kent State Executive Vice President and Provost Todd Diacon, Ph.D., and Director of Kent State's Center for Teaching and Learning Jennifer Marcinkiewicz, Ph.D., attended the meeting. The cluster has been refining its action plan since the meeting, Dean Pringle said.

During the five-year period, Powered by Publics will release statistics about its targets, such as degree completions, to the public.

Currently, degree completions at public institutions nationwide need a boost. Only 61 percent of students who first enrolled at a four-year public institution graduate within six years, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

And the achievement gap continues to widen. While 71 percent of white students and 76 percent of Asian students completed four-year publics within six years, the rate is 50 percent of black students and 56 percent of Latinos, according to the research center.

“One of the downfalls to the higher education industry is that we don’t think of how to leverage our collective knowledge and our collective focus to move pretty significant issues on our campuses,” Dean Pringle said. “For example, many of us are faced with the challenge of access and making sure that there are students that not only have the option to access our universities, but that the students have the support to ensure that they are also successful.”
 
Dean Pringle added that at times, statewide policy or affordability could stand in the way of accessibility. In those cases, universities sharing their knowledge with one another may help overcome the challenges.

Kent State has knowledge in regard to working with unique populations that would be valuable to share with other institutions.

“We have positioned ourselves to have success because we have dedicated resources and engaged in a lot of conversations about the unique needs of our various populations and not just delivering the same thing for everybody,” Dean Pringle said. “We’ve dedicated resources to academic diversity outreach in every college. President (Beverly) Warren has made it a priority and put funding toward making it successful.”

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