CORVALLIS, Ore. - Initiatives that are under way at Oregon State University and among other members of the University Innovation Alliance to produce more college graduates from low-income and first-generation families will be bolstered by an additional $3.85 million in funding.

The new support comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and USA Funds.

The University Innovation Alliance was founded in 2014 by OSU and 10 other top-tier research institutions, with the intent of sharing data and educational innovations to enhance college student success. Member universities have set a goal to graduate 68,000 more students over the next decade and so far are on track to graduate nearly 100,000 more during that time.

"These recent grant awards provide continued momentum to this important work, and will help strengthen the efforts of all of the partners involved in the University Innovation Alliance," said OSU President Edward J. Ray. "At Oregon State University, we are committed to graduating more students of color and who come from low-income and first-generation families."

With the latest investment, this alliance has received $18.45 million in funds, including support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, the Markle Foundation, USA Funds, and the U.S. Department of Education.

Participants in this national program include OSU, Arizona State University, The Ohio State University, Georgia State University, the University of California/ Riverside, Iowa State University, the University of Central Florida, Michigan State University, the University of Kansas, University of Texas/ Austin, and Purdue University.

On a national level, college enrollment numbers are declining even though it's estimated that the nation will face a shortage of 5 million college graduates by 2020.

A perceived need is not only to increase the overall number of graduates but to help ensure greater enrollment and academic success among those in lower socioeconomic levels. OSU is one of six participating universities in this initiative that have each increased the number of low-income graduates by at least 19 percent in the past two years.

Ray cited this issue as a critical concern in his recent State of the University Address in Portland, Ore., on Feb. 12.

"Forty years ago, the likelihood of getting a college degree if your family was among the upper quartile of the income distribution in this country was 44 percent," Ray said in that address. "Today, that figure is 82 percent. Forty years ago, the likelihood of getting a college degree if your family was in the lowest quartile of the income distribution in America was 6 percent. Today that figure is only 9 percent.

"This is shameful. Higher education in America is deepening the divide in our nation between haves and have nots, and this chasm is tearing at the fabric of society and undermining our democracy."

Initiatives made through the University Innovation Alliance will help address these concerns, officials said.

The University of California, Riverside, has redesigned its summer bridge program based on lessons learned from the University of Texas at Austin. A "retention grant" program started at Georgia State is expanding, which provides funds to students who are close to graduating but might otherwise be deterred by outstanding fees. All 11 universities participating in the program are now using predictive analytics, with positive student success and retention results.

OSU is working to share information about some of its more successful programs, such as the College Assistance Migrant Program for children of migrant families; the Educational Opportunities Program, a resource for students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, veterans and others; and TRiO Student Support Services, a program aimed at boosting student retention.

"OSU expects that the learning from the partner institutions will also help us in our Student Success Initiative," said Sabah Randhawa, provost and executive vice president. "This is focused on expanding strategies to recruit and retain diverse and high-achieving students, raise and equalize retention and success for all learners, and make high-impact learning the hallmark of OSU undergraduate education."

Oregon State's Ecampus online education program is also an enormous success, and one key to providing higher education to students who need to control costs, cannot leave home to attend college, or have other constraints on conventional college attendance.

OSU Ecampus now delivers more than 40 degree and certificate programs to students in all 50 states and more than 40 countries, and in January 2016 its online bachelor's degree programs were ranked in the top 10 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for the second straight year. Its growth has been extraordinary. Just in the academic year 2014-15, the number of true distance students at OSU increased by 39 percent to 6,913.

"Many of our distance learners are first-generation college students who can't attend classes on campus because of work or family obligations," said Ecampus Executive Director Lisa L. Templeton. "We're proud to give students worldwide a path forward by providing access to an Oregon State education at a sustainable cost."

Officials of the University Innovation Alliance say it's the first time a group of large, public research universities have proactively organized to identify solutions that could increase retention and graduation rates. Almost 400,000 students attend the 11 universities involved in this program.

"This level of collaboration among universities is unprecedented," said Susana Rivera-Mills, OSU vice provost and dean for undergraduate studies.

"It is the way of the future. If we are to significantly increase the number of students who achieve a quality college education, and meet the demands of a growing global society, then our future as an institution of higher education will depend on the extent to which we can collaborate, innovate, and quickly move our goals forward in partnership with other institutions."



Susana Rivera-Mills, 541-737-4586

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