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UH Participates in National Initiative to help Undergraduates Succeed

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Nationwide, almost half of all undergraduates attend community colleges. Yet, only 45 percent of these students actually earn their degrees or transfer to a four-year higher education institution within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

As part of a national initiative, the University of Houston is working to help more community college students achieve their dreams of academic success.

UH recently was selected to participate in Achieving the Dream, a multi-year effort to increase the educational attainment of students, particularly those who are at high-risk in historically underrepresented groups and from low-income backgrounds. UH is one of only four universities — with UH-Downtown and Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M universities — involved in the initiative, which includes 80 community colleges.

The program seeks to assist more students reach their individual goals, which may include earning a community college certificate or degree, attaining a bachelor's degree and/or obtaining a better job.

Each institution is responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy based upon research to meet the initiative’s goal. At UH, administrators are in the beginning stage, focusing on compiling data necessary for the project.

“Our primary objective is to determine how we can work with community colleges in creating a seamless transition for community college students interested in furthering their education at the university,” said Agnes De Franco, assistant vice president for undergraduate studies.

UH’s involvement in the initiative stemmed from an invitation by Houston Endowment Inc., a private philanthropic organization and an Achieving the Dream sponsor. The foundation awarded a five-year, $450,000 grant to UH after the university was accepted into the program.

“The purpose of the initiative is to drive higher levels of student success, and one of the ways that is measured is by increasing the number of community college students transferring to four-year higher education institutions,” said George Grainger, Houston Endowment senior grant officer. “We thought the University of Houston could contribute significantly to the project because administrators know what is needed for students to transfer and succeed at a four-year university.

UH began working with Achieving the Dream this summer. Representatives attended a kick-off institute with other participants, donors and program leaders. The university also formed two teams comprised of faculty and senior administrators.

In September, the teams met with two national experts from the Indiana University-Bloomington Wendell W. Wright School of Education School of Education — George D. Kuh, Chancellor's Professor of Higher Education and Center for Postsecondary Research director, and Vasti Torres, associate professor of education leadership and policy studies.

Kuh will coach the university through the planning and implementation process. Torres will assist in analyzing, interpreting and presenting data to other faculty, staff and administrators.

Over the next few months, team members will seek comments from the campus community, meeting with the Faculty Senate, Student Government Association, Staff Council and the Undergraduate Council. In May, the university will present its plan to Achieving the Dream and Houston Endowment officials for approval. If all goes well, UH will implement its plan next fall.

Achieving the Dream is not the first UH program to assist community college students. One program guarantees admission to UH System universities — UH, UH-Downtown, UH-Clear Lake and UH-Victoria — to all Houston-area community college students who sign a joint admissions contract during their first year in community college, then complete the academic associate’s degree in good standing.

Another program allows city of Houston employees to acquire Houston Community College (HCC) credit for classes completed at the city's Cape Center. These transferred credits can be applied toward fulfilling a degree plan at HCC. Degreed employees may then enrolled at a UH System university.