The New America Foundation has bestowed the title of “Next Generation University” to UC Riverside for its expanding enrollment and high graduation rates despite increasing economic pressures and declining revenue from the state. UCR is one of six campuses in the country to be honored with the recognition.
The foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that addresses issues of higher education and health care that are confronting the United States. Other factors that contributed to UCR’s selection included an extensive network of learning communities and student engagement in undergraduate-faculty research.
The results of the report were released on Tuesday, May 21 during an event in Sacramento. UCR Interim Chancellor Jane Conoley served on higher education panels for reshaping retention rates and developing strategies for students’ success.
With the reduction of $1 billion in state funds — or a 25 percent decrease — since 2008, most UC campuses have seen a seven percent decline in enrollment, with a five percent drop in high school acceptance rates.
According to the Next Generation University report, “Since 2006, [UCR’s] enrollment has expanded by 25 percent, to more than 23,000 students. As the number of minority students at other University of California campuses decreased as a result of enrollment caps, the Riverside campus continued to attract underrepresented students from the surrounding communities.” This has led to a high graduation rate of 64 percent for minority students.
Chancellor Conoley reported that more than two-thirds of all freshmen are involved in learning communities, with varying degrees of success in each college. As a result, freshman retention rates have increased by eight percent. Supplemental advisement and undergraduate-faculty research have served as “magnet,” for attracting and assisting students who are struggling to maintain a strong academic performance.
On the other hand, the campus has faced the difficulty of keeping up with the pace of enrollment and hired faculty members. For some colleges, there are 600 students for every advisor. With increasing student enrollment, Interim Dean and Professor in the School of Education Douglas Mitchell said, “[UCR] looked at the other UC campuses and said, ‘Why don’t we get the elite students they get?’ And then we decided to take the students we get, and make them elite.”
During the unveiling of the study, a reporter from Diverse Issues of Higher Education, Jamal Abdul-Alim, asked, “What message do you send the students, in terms of getting involved with undergraduate research … are there opportunities [for first-generation and low-income students] to do research that they feel is relevant in the realities in which they come [from]?”
In response, Chancellor Conoley said, “About 67 percent of our students take part in some kind of research associated with faculty oversight.” During orientation, students are often encouraged to go to advising centers to cement relationships with advisors, which can lead to persistent retention rates even throughout professional and graduate school.
Director of the CNAS Academic Advising Center Barbra Wallace expressed that the advising center has reached nationwide goals set by the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) since the center first opened its doors in 2006.
“In addition to our exceptional academic advising, our office also has responsibility for the oversight of student success programs such as the CNAS Freshman Scholars Learning Communities and the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) Pathways transfer program. Our Learning Community and STEM Pathways coordinators and staff work to assist the new freshman and transfers to more easily transition to meet the rigorous academic expectations of CNAS,” she remarked.
Nearly one-third of all UCR students are enlisted as STEM majors, according to the findings.
In terms of community outreach, ASUCR Outreach Director Cortni Thomas stated campus administrators, faculty and staff can assist K-12 and community college students in pursuing admissions to a four-year university rather than glossing over it as an unattainable dream.
“The number of first generation, minority and low income students is what sets us apart, and drives our passion for outreaching to K-12 and community colleges. As students we recognize the need to cultivate our youth and foster the importance of higher education,” said Thomas.
From 2006-2007, the number of low-income students receiving Pell Grants increased from 37 percent to 57 percent — the second-highest percentage within the UC system.
“Honestly, the passion and the commitment these student organizations have for outreach to students of the community is extremely honorable. Although [Student initiated Academic Preparation] SIAP grant funds are limited, ASUCR Outreach is committed to ensuring all organizations that wish to hold Outreach events can do so efficiently,” said Thomas. SIAP grants are state funds geared towards supporting 7th-12th grade students, with the goal of pursuing higher education.
The other campuses recognized include Arizona State University, Georgia State University, The University at Buffalo [SUNY], University of Texas at Arlington and University of Central Florida.