Arizona State University has exceeded its goals in graduating more students from low-income backgrounds as well as Black, Hispanic and Asian American students in order to increase access to higher education for people from every background.
The university announced the news as a member of the University Innovation Alliance, a national coalition of innovative public research universities across the U.S. working to improve student success. The group, of which ASU is the only Arizona- based member, set a target graduation rate during President Barack Obama’s College Opportunity Summit in 2014.
At the time of its launch, UIA leaders set a goal to graduate an additional 68,000 students above their baseline projections during the next 10 years; they committed that half of those graduates would come from low-income backgrounds.
Six years in and ahead of schedule, the UIA schools have far exceeded that goal. Across the board, an additional 73,573 students received diplomas and the number of graduates from low-income backgrounds increased by 36% and graduates of color by 73%.
ASU, in particular, has graduated an additional 21,128 students above the school’s baseline projections and has increased the number of low-income graduates by 63.2% and graduates of color by 93.3%. ASU has graduated approximately 112,835 total students since 2013, just before these goals were set.
“We believe that higher education leads to individual success, social mobility, and U.S. global competitiveness,” said Dr. Sukhwant Jhaj, Vice Provost for Academic Innovation at ASU. “Arizona State University has developed a new model for the American research university, creating an institution committed to excellence, access and impact — the New American University. We are committed to the success of all students.”
The university’s last four-year cohort boasted 19,427 graduates. Of them, approximately 6,946 and 7,428 were from low-income backgrounds and were students of color, respectively.
Jhaj said university faculty and staff have committed to student attainment over the years by deploying adaptive learning in introductory classes in order to enhance student success and providing experiential learning opportunities. Innovations such as proactive advising, peer coaching and academic support services also have changed student outcomes for the better, he said.
ASU, the largest of Arizona’s three public institutions for higher education, far exceeds graduation rates of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and the University of Arizona in Tucson. But spokespersons for NAU and UArizona both say their schools are making strides in increasing access and student success.
UArizona Vice President of Enrollment Management and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Kasey Urquidez could not provide graduation rates, but said the school is committed to tearing down barriers to higher education for students from more diverse backgrounds.
“It is an absolute goal to improve completion and graduation rates of all students, but we particularly want to increase the number of low income and students of color as well,” she said. “While we do not have specific goals in place by student type, we do have overarching goals and will continue to focus on student support to ensure student success for all enrolled students.”
The Tucson-based school implemented the Pell Pledge Grant program in 2020 to ensure all Pell-eligible Arizona students don’t pay tuition. There also are a number of diversity and inclusion programs in place to support students, Urquidez said.
“We are so committed to our students, and students are at the heart of our strategic plan,” she said. “We are dedicated to helping students not only access higher education, but complete it. We have made decisions to better support students in maintaining their scholarships as well.”
At NAU in Flagstaff, four-year graduation rates have improved during the past decade. The freshman cohort that began in fall 2016 counted 5,601 members; approximately 43.3% graduated in four years. In contrast, NAU’s fall 2006 cohort boasted just 2,734 students and only 28.3% graduated in four years.
“The diversity of our student body is currently 39%, or 11,535 students, a climb of nearly 7 percentage points over the last five years,” said Kimberly Ott, associate vice president of communications. “In addition, the diversity of our faculty and staff has grown to 22.1%. Over the past decade, NAU’s student body has diversified to reflect the state population, ensuring NAU meets the state’s goal of increasing the number of Arizonans pursuing a college degree.”
Ott said NAU is also a Hispanic Serving Institution and ranks in the top 1% of public universities with the highest Native American enrollment. Additionally, NAU approved its first Diversity Strategic Plan in recent months, which it will implement across campus.
While ASU is able to collaborate and share ideas with the other UIA members, Jhaj said other public universities can take these efforts on as well.
“Engage your faculty, staff, and students in innovation,” he said. “Collaborate with others to learn and share ideas. Deploy technology to scale up innovations.”