Inequities in Higher Ed
In fall 2014, we launched the University Innovation Alliance, driven by a sense of urgency that not enough students were graduating with quality degrees. We were also concerned that institutions in the higher education sector were failing first-generation students, students of color, and students from low-income backgrounds. The alliance set out to solve two persistent problems in higher education. First, institutions were not producing enough high-quality graduates across the socioeconomic spectrum to meet America’s economic needs. Second, efforts to increase the diversity of college graduates were conducted in isolation and failed to scale.
These problems are rooted in historical design: of institutions, of their internal process, of broader sector incentives, and of rankings. The UIA’s 11 founding presidents and chancellors shared a belief that working separately to solve these problems wasted time, energy, and money – and that students were paying too high a price.
Universities are not fundamentally engineered to help students reach graduation. As evidence, consider how many institutions pride themselves on the small percentage of applicants they admit. The competitive nature of higher education means that universities usually work alone, without sharing their successes and failures. Such efforts often are not thoughtfully designed for the professionals tasked with driving progress on campus. Our member universities share a belief that higher education doesn’t have to be this way.
Meeting the Challenge
So we set a bold initial goal: In ten years, UIA institutions would graduate 68,000 more students than otherwise projected, and at least half of those additional graduates would be from low-income backgrounds. That timeline meant rapidly piloting, assessing, and scaling interventions. Members agreed on a three-pronged commitment toward rapid experimentation, deep collaboration, and radical sharing of challenges, insights, and data.
We announced our commitment at a December 2014 White House summit.
From the outset, five core principles have been essential to our work:
- Using data to measure progress and catalyze change, and transparently sharing that data across member institutions
- Reengineering institutions around students, using process mapping and design-thinking strategies to focus on what is and is not serving students, and what would serve them better
- Fostering a collaborative, empowered environment across the UIA network
- Embracing continual improvement and using organizational learning and annual evaluations to monitor progress
- Setting ambitious goals and holding each other accountable
We're proud to announce that with the class of 2020, we've met our goal of graduating 68,000 additional students four years ahead of schedule. In fact, our institutions have already exceeded that goal by over 5,000 graduates. Most importantly, the UIA has increased the number of annual low-income graduates by 36% and the number of annual graduates of color by 73%. Those numbers represent thousands of talented students succeeding in higher education, despite the odds against them. And beyond the numbers, our work has shown that institutions can collaborate to rapidly scale promising innovations and dramatically improve the number of graduates produced nationwide. While these 11 institutions faced a steep learning curve with widely varied resources, campus structures, and culture, our shared commitment helped us reach shared goals.
Be Part of the Solution
We launched as a public experiment, and we’ve always been committed to sharing our results. True to those values, we offer the following overview of lessons learned. We hope this work will inspire and inform colleges and universities well beyond the alliance.