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Universities Join Forces to Help Lower-Income Students

Universities usually compete fiercely for students, research dollars and even bragging rights on the football field.

But a group of universities, including Arizona State, is banding together for a common goal: improving graduation rates for lower-income students.

The unusual alliance, announced earlier this month, brings together 11 major research universities to develop and share proven strategies for increasing student retention and graduation. Arizona State University (ASU) spearheaded the initiative.

“Rich kids have a better chance of getting college degrees,” ASU President Michael Crow says. “We’re going to even out that playing field so family income is no longer a predictor of college success. We’re going to innovate together.”

Schools in the University Innovation Alliance ( have raised $5.7 million to create a national “playbook” of ideas that can be shared.

Among those involved in the alliance are The Ohio State University, Michigan State, Purdue, University of California-Riverside and The University of Texas at Austin. Crow is the alliance's chairman.

Nationally, about 59 percent of students earn bachelor’s degrees within six years. Students from higher-income families have significant advantages.

Wealthier families often prepare their children to go to college, Crow said. Lower-income and first-generation college students can have a tougher time adjusting. A 2011 study found that only one in 10 people from low-income families has a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared with half of all people from high-income families.

Crow, who himself came from a lower-income family, said the traditional “sink or swim” attitude toward all college students is too simplistic. Technology can be used to help students’ progress toward earning degrees.

ASU plans to share with the other universities its eAdvisor technology. The Web-based system, introduced in 2007, helps a student track what classes are needed every semester and the projected graduate date. If a student decides to change majors, the system can figure out what classes are needed and how long it will take to earn a degree.

ASU junior Tatiana Jenkins used the eAdvisor technology to investigate academic majors at ASU before she entered the university. She was able to see all the required classes she would need to take for political science, broken down by semester.

ASU officials say the technology has helped improve four-year graduation rates among lower-income students from 26 percent to 41 percent.

The alliance is one of several initiatives that Crow has helped launch that are in line with the university’s mission of giving more students access to a college education. Over the summer, ASU partnered with Starbucks to provide online degrees to the coffee-shop giant's employees. Like the Starbucks initiative, the university alliance is aimed at increasing the percentage of adults with college degrees.

Eleven universities involved in alliance
Arizona State University, The Ohio State University, Georgia State University, University of California-Riverside, Iowa State University, Purdue University, University of Central Florida, Michigan State University, University of Kansas, Oregon State University and The University of Texas at Austin.