Chancellor Wilcox at the White House College Opportunity Day of Action

University Innovation Alliance Announces Commitment to produce 68,000 additional graduates by 2025 at White House event

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the White House College Opportunity Day of Action summit at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 2014. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox and the other members of the University Innovation Alliance joined President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden along with other college presidents and higher education leaders on Dec. 4 to announce new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college.

The University of California plans to expand several of its most successful K-12 outreach programs, and is also working to streamline the community college transfer process as part of larger efforts to help more California students earn a four-year degree.

The event, billed by President Barack Obama as the White House College Opportunity Day of Action, aims to increase the number of college graduates in the United States, especially among low-income students and members of underrepresented minorities. It emphasizes the president’s commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders and nonprofits to support students across the country and help the nation reach its goal of leading the world in college attainment.

The University Innovation Alliance (UIA), 11 public research universities spanning the country, is making a new commitment to producing 68,000 additional college graduates and a total of 860,000 graduates by 2025. The UIA is identifying and piloting new innovations to improve student success and scale proven innovations that significantly improve graduation rates across campuses. The Alliance will also share what works with the broader higher education community to create a playbook of proven innovations that help students from all backgrounds complete.

“The University of California is a model for how the nation can better serve students across ethnicity and socioeconomic status,” said UCR Chancellor Wilcox. “At my own campus in Riverside, more than 60 percent of our domestic undergraduates are first in their families to seek a college degree, and our student body includes 55 percent Pell grant recipients – which ranks us No. 1 in the nation among research intensive universities.”

He noted that UC Riverside serves more Pell recipients than all the campuses of the Ivy League combined. And UC campuses, as a whole, stand in contrast to the national trends.

UC stands as a model in higher education for how colleges and universities can better serve disadvantaged students. Not only does it enroll large numbers of low-income students, it also ensures that they have the tools with which to graduate at roughly the same rates as other students.

“Serving students from all walks of life is not just an ideal. It is who we are,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “Yet there is always more we can do.”

In January, several UC chancellors met at a White House summit on college opportunity that was the precursor to today’s discussion.

Among the actions taken at that meeting, UC pledged to partner with the College Board to encourage more students who perform well on college admissions tests to complete the requirements to become eligible for UC.

In spring 2014, Napolitano sent a personal letter to all high-achieving, low-income students who scored well on a preliminary college admissions test, with information on how to prepare for college and the financial resources available to help pay for it. Since then, UC has embarked upon a more broad-based partnership with the College Board to increase the number of these students taking college preparatory and honors courses.

At Thursday’s discussion, the UC Office of the President committed to a number of additional actions to further expand educational opportunities for underserved students.

Among these efforts:

The university is working to streamline the community college transfer process. Already, about third of undergraduates come to UC through the California Community Colleges system, but transfer rates are low at some community college campuses. UC is working with 24 of those campuses to boost transfer rates.

The university will expand enrollment in CalTeach, a program that is helping to address the shortage of qualified math and science teachers. CalTeach encourages UC undergraduate STEM majors to pursue careers in K-12 education.  A majority of the program’s graduates go on to work in high-poverty urban and rural schools.

The university will provide transcript evaluation services to an additional 2,600 California public schools. The program provides schools with individualized transcripts that chart students’ progress toward completing the courses necessary for admission to California’s public four-year universities.

UC will offer more workshops to K-12 educators on how to create vocational courses that also fulfill college prep requirements. The workshops, offered through the University of California Curriculum Integration Institutes (UCCI), bring together collaborative teams to  create challenging courses that integrate the core academic subjects necessary to apply to college with career technical education subjects that provide job skills.

Across the country, lower-income students are much less likely to enroll in college than the general population. Of those who do enroll, many fail to complete their studies: national education statistics show that more than half of students who receive Pell Grants, financial aid given to low-income families, leave college without earning a degree.

At the top-tier universities with the best rates of graduation and student success, low-income students are especially underrepresented. On average, Pell Grant recipients account for just 16 percent of undergraduates at selective private schools and 23 percent of students at selective public universities.

It’s a far different story at UC. In 2013, 42 percent of undergraduates — some 77,000 students — came from low-income families and 41 percent were the first in their families to go to college.

“The University of California is the standard-bearer among top universities in serving large numbers of students from socially and economically diverse backgrounds,” Napolitano said. “And we will continue to do all we can to ensure that every hard-working California student has a shot at a world-class UC education.”

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