UIC among finalists for award recognizing student success, degree completion

Aerial view of crowd of graduates
UIC’s efforts have led to a record number of degree completions and increased graduation rates across all undergraduate populations. (Photo: Jenny Fontaine/UIC)

The University of Illinois Chicago is one of three universities named finalists for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ 2021 Degree Completion Award. 

UIC, Florida Atlantic University and Florida State University are the finalists for the award, which is open to the organization’s 125 member institutions. The winner will be announced at the organization’s virtual annual meeting Nov. 15-17. 

The honor rewards institutions that have employed innovative approaches to improve degree completion while ensuring educational quality, according to the association’s president, Peter McPherson. 

“Public universities have made progress in increasing college access, equity and completion, but the need for faster and greater progress is clear,” McPherson said. “Florida Atlantic University, Florida State University and University of Illinois Chicago serve as important examples of how public universities can implement effective institution-wide efforts to advance student success and completion.”

UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis speaks to graduates in 2019. (Photo: Jenny Fontaine/UIC)

In UIC’s application, Chancellor Michael Amiridis and Nikos Varelas, vice provost for undergraduate affairs and academic programs, highlighted the Student Success Initiative, a multipronged effort that began in 2012 and was informed by 125 campuswide recommendations to provide a wide range of students with the educational opportunity a research university can offer. 

The effort has resulted in “an ongoing investment in funding, launching, developing and evaluating student success initiatives, driven by the goals of increasing graduation rates and addressing equity gaps.” These came as UIC experienced seven consecutive years of record enrollment, increases in undergraduate graduation rates across all populations and increased financial aid dollars to students as the state’s financial issues left the campus without a budget for two years.  

“Central to our mission, UIC strives to offer an inclusive and innovative learning environment where all students are supported and provided with opportunities for successful degree completion,” Amiridis said.  

To do this, the university adopted a “change management” approach that shifted the culture to make student success a strategic campuswide endeavor guided by data and national best practices. University officials invested resources to expand efforts proven to be effective in the areas of the first-year experience and advising, financial support, teaching and course curriculum reforms, as well as academic support. 

UIC’s Student Success Initiative began in 2012 and was informed by 125 campuswide recommendations. (Photo: Jenny Fontaine/UIC)

The efforts include the development of custom-made predictive analytics models that identify and provide support for students who may encounter challenges toward graduation. Another effort is the implementation of iAdvise, which has streamlined the day-to-day advising process. This had led to the expansion of an early alert program that allows instructors in introductory-level courses to quickly identify students facing challenges early in their courses and inform their advisers and coaches, who can then step in to help support students through issues early.

The university developed a summer college program to assist in students’ academic and socio-emotional transition to UIC. The effort is made up of a collection of tuition-free programs that include academic workshops, student support and college readiness. The programs are offered the summer before the students’ first fall semester in three-week or six-week sessions. 

“The UIC Summer College has become an essential mechanism to help incoming students move beyond developmental placements and connect with support units,” Varelas said. 

As part of UIC’s Student Success Initiative, the university expanded tutoring and supplemental instruction by focusing on revamping STEM courses to promote active learning as well as reforming first-year writing and math courses. In addition, a transition coaching program was created where transition coaches go to several high schools and help seniors prepare for college. They continue to work with students throughout the summer before they matriculate and throughout their first academic year at UIC.

“Collectively, these efforts reflect a foundational shift on campus resulting from the remarkable commitment and ingenuity of the entire UIC community,” Varelas said.

The initiative also has focused on the increasing financial need of students as enrollments have reached record levels over the last seven years by supporting students with more than $50 million in institutionally funded financial aid each year. This has resulted in 37% of students paying less than $1,000 in tuition and fees each semester. To make sure students graduate in four years, the university also offers Pell Grant-awarded students the opportunity to take five or more credit hours in the summer session nearly free of charge. 

In the application, Amiridis noted that in a show of confidence, UIC was a recent beneficiary of philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s gift of $40 million, the largest single gift in UIC’s history. UIC is designated as a Minority-Serving Institution, a Hispanic-Serving Institution and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution. 

“With these renewed strategic priorities, we have seen a record number of degree completions and increased graduation rates across all undergraduate populations,” Amiridis said. “We are proud of our progress and are firmly committed to continue supporting an innovative, campuswide culture of student success.” 

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