A UNC-Chapel Hill professor has received a $3 million grant to help college students make it to graduation.
The grant is one of two dozen from the U.S. Department of Education’s First in the World program, aimed at improving college affordability and completion rates.
The idea behind the $75 million grant competition was to return the United States to the world’s leader in college graduates. The U.S. has slipped in the past two decades to 12th in four-year degree attainment among 25- to 34-year-olds, according to the White House. And while more than half of college students nationally earn a diploma within six years, the rate is only about 25 percent for low-income students.
Abigail Panter, psychology professor and senior associate dean for undergraduate education at UNC-CH, will use the federal funding over a four-year period to develop a program called the Finish Line Project. Designed for students who are the first in their family to go to college, the project aims to improve retention with outreach, support and changes to curriculum. Rural, transfer and historically underserved students are likely to be the focus of the program.
Panter was one of 500 applicants for the grants. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a news release that the competition will test creative and sound approaches to improve student outcomes.
“We are confident these projects will have a positive impact on increasing access and completion and help us reach President Obama’s 2020 goal, to once again have the highest share of college graduates in the world,” Duncan said.
UNC-CH has already revamped some of its science and math classes with less lecture and more active-learning methods, resulting in better performance by at-risk students.
About 20 percent of undergraduates at UNC-CH are first in their family to go to college and are at greater risk of dropping out. Students who transfer from community colleges and major in science, math and engineering disciplines are also less likely to finish their education.
Part of the UNC-CH program will include intensive academic advising before a student enrolls and during that student’s progression through college. Other elements are individual and group tutoring and success seminars for students, as well as collaborations among faculty to experiment in their classrooms.