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Private Colleges Outline New College Success Initiative

The nation’s private colleges and universities pledged Friday to boost efforts to enroll and graduate at-risk students, as leaders said the move would complement the Obama administration’s plans for greater success rates in higher education.

The Building Blocks to 2020 initiative from the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and the Council of Independent Colleges would document colleges’ effective practices with at-risk students and provide opportunities to expand proven programs. The initiative also calls on private colleges to set goals on issues such as graduation rates and success in educating at-risk students.

“If you want to move the needle on college retention and completion, the wholehearted participation of America’s private colleges and universities is essential,” said NAICU President Dr. David L. Warren.

Private colleges already have a strong track record with first-generation students, Warren said. While all post-secondary institutions graduate only about one-quarter of first-generation students, he said, private colleges graduate about 60 percent of students in that category.

“Our institutions will now build on that existing record as partners in reaching the president’s goal,” said Dr. Richard Ekman, Council of Independent Colleges president.

To gather information on effective practices, the organizations are surveying campuses and collecting information about services on individual campuses. The groups then will disseminate the information so more colleges may offer these “best practices.” In addition, the Council on Independent Colleges has received $5 million from the Wal-Mart Foundation to expand exemplary success programs for first-generation college students.

“For the first time, we will have a comprehensive inventory of programs,” said NAICU spokesman Roland King. With the ability to replicate these strategies — plus the foundation funding — the groups can “leverage” these practices to other institutions, King told Diverse.

Another component of the initiative is what the sponsors call “Marking Progress.” Under this component, all private colleges are encouraged to identify specific college success goals. NAICU and the Council of Independent Colleges will monitor progress through “milepost reports” on college efforts to raise graduation and retention rates, increase success with at-risk students and produce more college graduates in areas of national need.

The initiative can provide the “inspiration and information to develop new programs,” King said.

Colleges would share the information via a Building Blocks to 2020 web site as well as through social networking outlets such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogs.

In his American Graduation Initiative, President Barack Obama outlined a goal that the U.S. have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. As part of this effort, the White House wants $2.5 billion for a new college access and completion fund. This idea is part of the Student Aid and Family Responsibility Act (SAFRA) legislation, which has passed the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate.

The two organizations unveiled the initiative at NAICU’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. An online survey to gather promising access and success activities is available at

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