New alliance seeks to increase the number and diversity of Utah’s graduate students

University of Utah President Taylor Randall spoke about his experiences as a student at the school and those of current students.

“I came here as a sophomore in 1987, and there are too many things that look and feel the same as they did in 1987,” said Randall, the first U. alumnus in 50 years to lead the state’s flagship institution.

“But when you look at how the world is changing, we have to make sure that our students are prepared, that we’re preparing them to have really, really different outcomes.”

Randall made the comments Wednesday during a fireside chat with Bridget Burns, CEO of the University Innovation Alliance, of which the U. is one of its newest members. The Alliance is a national coalition of public research universities dedicated to increasing the number and diversity of college graduates in the United States.

According to their annual report, the universities in the founding alliance are well on their way to doubling their goal of 68,000 degrees by 2025.

Burns, a keynote speaker at the US Student Success Summit held at the Cleone Peterson Eccles Alumni House on Wednesday, said the alliance is intentionally small — likely never to have more than 20 members. The deliberately small board helps members—university presidents and rectors—build enough trust to be happy to share their successes and shortcomings.

Peers hold each other accountable for their shared goals, which Burns likens to a Weight Watchers meeting model. Member universities agree to a transparent data-sharing agreement, and equity gaps are measured over time.

“It’s not a place where you can say you care but don’t actually do the work,” she said.

Some students face a “backpack” of challenges

Allianz limits comparisons to equity gaps and examines graduation rates for students who are first generation of their families to attend college, students of color, low-income students and students who do not need financial support to attend college.

Students of color, low-income, and first-generation students carry “an added backpack of challenges,” Burns said.

If colleges and universities include these students in their design, “the changes we’re going to make will raise the water level for everyone.”


Bridget Burns, CEO of the University Innovation Alliance, speaks at the Student Success Summit at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, November 30, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Improving college graduation rates is not only the best way out of the cycle of poverty, but also helps keep the US economy and workforce internationally competitive, she said. About half of the students who enter colleges or universities nationwide don’t have a degree, she said.

While there are a variety of reasons why students entering college do not graduate, Allianz has launched initiatives designed to help students continue their studies and graduate.

One effort has been to provide ‘completion grants’ to students facing modest financial hurdles. According to the annual report, 83% of the 5,000 scholarship holders were retained and completed their studies within two semesters.

overcome graduation hurdles

In 2017, UIA launched a three-year completion scholarship initiative to support students facing modest financial barriers that limit their ability to enroll, pass, and complete their studies. It took some students as little as $1,000 to get back on track.

Another program included a “predictive analytics initiative focused on improving student outcomes by using institutional data to identify early warning signs that trigger proactive interventions,” according to the institute’s annual report.

Proactive counseling – reaching out to students for regular study planning – has also been shown to be effective in increasing retention and graduation rates.

According to the report, a study by Allianz showed that students who received proactive counseling had higher credit accumulation and higher GPAs compared to the control group.


University Innovation Alliance CEO Bridget Burns, left, and University of Utah President Taylor Randall sit down for a fireside chat at the Student Success Summit on the university’s campus in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, November 30, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Burns said the alliance works because the university leaders invited to participate are personally committed to the work.

“The reason we waited in the case of Utah was because we waited for President Randall. We’ve been waiting for Provost (Mitzi) Montoya because we know that leadership is key. You can’t do anything without the right leadership and that was really the right moment,” she said.

For the most part, the challenges faced by public research universities are not unique or different, Burns said.

But reform is challenging because “it’s like the ‘Hunger Games’ of institutions competing with each other. The broader incentives and trappings in higher education, whether it’s rankings, how we’re funded, or how we get attention, is always based on institutions positioning themselves and talking about themselves and focusing on themselves,” she said.

The Alliance is a “learning organization,” meaning it is a safe space where educational leaders’ interventions don’t have to be perfect the first time.

“We’re okay with messy first drafts,” Burns said.

Be successful together, fail together

T. Chase Hagood, senior associate vice president of US academic affairs, said being invited to the University Innovation Alliance means “we thrive together. We can fail together, learn from these challenges and opportunities, and truly see that every student at the University of Utah is set to succeed from day one to graduation.”

The university is currently working to redesign undergraduate education, he said.

Hagood, who was a first-generation college student, has seen the transformative impact of higher education—seeing yourself, the world, and yourself in the world differently.

“That’s our goal,” said Hagood, who is also the dean of undergraduate studies.

“The power and impact of higher education is that it transforms lives. It’s changing the course of lives not yet born and generations not yet born,” Hagood said.

The university’s commitment to every student is to make sure they succeed, “no matter what subject they are in, no matter where they want to go next in life, we really are the partner for their education with them.” “, he said.


T. Chase Hagood, Senior Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Utah, will speak at the Student Success Summit on the university’s Salt Lake City campus on Wednesday, November 30, 2022.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

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