Graphic by Vincent Ta
Graphic by Vincent Ta

UC Riverside has joined the University Innovation Alliance (UIA), a consortium of 11 universities dedicated to helping a greater number of low-income and minority students graduate by using effective practices already administered at each respective campus.

The creation of the alliance was first mentioned by Chancellor Kim Wilcox during a town hall meeting back in February 2014, but the alliance has been in the works since last year. Representing 378,489 undergraduates, approximately 30 percent of whom are Pell Grant students, the alliance will be funded by an $11 million grant from the Ford Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, USA Funds and partly from each UIA campus.

Alliance members held an event in September to announce the creation of the coalition, which aims to address two challenges: the low graduation rates for minority and low-income students in American higher education and the inhibition of idea-sharing that results from the competitive higher educational environment.

“UCR is 86 percent persons of color. Many are not traditional students. Our staff and faculty came because of that … We’re here for the students,” Wilcox emphasized at the UIA conference.

A month prior to the February town hall, a UCR task force had already determined that four-year and six-year student graduation rates stayed stagnant for several years. Nevertheless, compared to other UCs, UCR held some of the highest graduation rates for both low-income and minority students. As of now, the four-year graduation rate of UC Riverside hovers at 42 percent.

Another goal of the alliance is to promote practices found to be effective throughout the 11-member alliance and disseminate them to other campuses. Examples include predictive analytics, adaptive learning, pre-college bridge programs, learning communities, intensive advising programs and strategic financial interventions.

“Each intervention example has been developed at one UIA member institution (serving as a mentor) with at least one UIA campus demonstrating interest in being a mentee,” explained UCR Media Relations Director Kris Lovekin.

UC Riverside has found success through supplemental instruction and learning communities, which have been shown to increase student graduation rates on a long-term basis.

“The graduation rates are much better for students who participate in the CNAS Freshman Scholars Learning Community (CNAS Scholars for short),” affirmed Scott Silverman, CNAS Scholar and Research In Science and Engineering (RISE) coordinator. “This increase is consistent across the board by demographic and socio-economic differences. What this means is that the Learning Community is really an amazing opportunity for first-generation and low-income students.”

In a letter published in the Sacramento Bee, Wilcox emphasized the idea that more colleges need to recognize the need to raise graduation rates in public universities, which educates more than three-fourths of all students in America. With students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, Wilcox said, “As a nation, we cannot afford to let family income remain the primary determinant of educational success.”

“It is time to make good on the promise that a college degree is possible for people of all family backgrounds,” Wilcox furthered.

UIA also consists of Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, Ohio State University, University of Kansas, University of Texas and University of California, Riverside — the only California-based college in the coalition.