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Today, college leaders are meeting at the White House to discuss how to improve access for low-income students. Amid rising college costs and increased scrutiny around the value of a college degree, it’s a question plaguing higher education institutions across the country.

But because institutions vary, their solutions will too. Ed Trust has spent time with eight institutions, from Florida State University to the University of Southern California, that are notably improving results for low-income students and students of color over a sustained period of time. While practices and experiences vary among these institutions, two common themes emerge: leadership and data. Without a president or provost particularly focused on student success, it’s unlikely the campus itself will ever embody that mission. And without any data, it’s hard to see where students are falling off, why, and how the university can help. Based on observations and interviews, Ed Trust has created a guide of 10 key analyses institutions should consider in their quest for better success:

  • How many students do we lose along the way?
  • Are those students who return after the first year actually sophomores?
  • Why aren’t our students accumulating the credits they need to be on track?
  • What are some of the other reasons our students aren’t accumulating the credits they need?
  • Who’s struggling with math?
  • How many students who arrive needing remediation succeed at our institution?
  • What is the role of the major — or lack thereof — in student success?
  • How efficient are we at getting students to a degree without excess credits?
  • What pathways do our students take on their journey to a degree?
  • How do the pieces of student success — or failure — fit together?

With each analysis, the guide provides a snapshot of how it’s done at one of the institutions we’ve featured. Additionally, Ed Trust is releasing a case study of California State University, Northridge, where former President Jolene Koester made it an institutional — and data — priority to boost success rates for all students and, particularly, the large percentages of low-income students and Latinos on her campus. As a result, graduation rates for all students almost doubled in a decade.

Surely, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the multi-faceted issue of college completion. What worked at CSU-Northridge may not work at Florida State. But conversations like today’s at the White House — and guides like ours! — can help more institutions find what works for them.

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