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UW-Eau Claire partners with Gates Foundation on new college completion initiative

| Gary Johnson

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is among 80 colleges and universities in the country that are partnering with the Gates Foundation on a new initiative to increase student learning and success in higher education.

The Complete College Accelerator initiative is a nationwide effort funded from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Intermediaries for Scale (IFS) initiative to assess institutional performance, build data capacity, and develop and implement strategies to improve student outcomes. The overarching goal of the initiative is to remove barriers and help students reach their academic goals and earn their degrees.

UW-Eau Claire is one of four UW System universities in the first cohort working with Complete College America on the initiative that aims to increase outcomes such as retention and graduation rates for students, especially underserved student populations that include low-income and first-generation students, students of color and working adults.

Dr. Louisa Rice, interim associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and campus co-lead for the initiative, says UW-Eau Claire’s participation is an opportunity to evaluate the work being done to promote student access, learning and success, and identify any gaps in those efforts. Through the collaboration with Complete College America, UW-Eau Claire can accelerate projects “that are important to us as an institution.”

“Joining this early cohort with three other UW institutions means we have not just the support of a well-funded national advocacy group and the Universities of Wisconsin, but also colleagues across the state,” Rice says. “This work is important as we seek to better serve the needs of all of our students in northwest Wisconsin, but it also, as CCA states in their mission statement, contributes to a national need to ‘dramatically increase college completion rates.’”

UW-Eau Claire has made significant improvements to its campuswide student retention in recent years through the strong partnerships among equity, diversity and inclusion, student affairs, academic affairs and enrollment management, says Billy Felz, vice chancellor for enrollment management.

“We have gotten really good at identifying students who may be at risk and putting the right person, with the right resources, in front of them at the right time,” Felz says. “Why the work with Complete College America is so exciting and promising is that it will help us really focus on some of our most vulnerable populations on campus when it comes to retention and timely graduation. I believe the best practices we develop and the resources provided will make a huge difference in closing the opportunity gaps for students here at UWEC.”

As part of the project, UW-Eau Claire will initiate an Institutional Transformation Assessment (ITA) to assess existing student success efforts and the organizational structures that support them, examining areas of strength and needs for improvement. The ITA is “a key driver of our work for this initiative,” says Josh Bach-Hanson, special assistant to the vice chancellor for enrollment management and campus co-lead for the Complete College Accelerator initiative.

“The survey itself is broad enough in scope so that it not only gathers input from folks actively doing the work, but also allows us and the team at Complete College America to get a better understanding of people’s perceptions of topics related to student success at UWEC,” Bach-Hanson says. “From the ITA, we hope to get a better understanding of the areas where we’re excelling and those that we could improve in, with the end goal of supporting transformative change and building our capacity for equitable student success.”