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Low-Income Students See Low Graduation Rates

While 60% of high-income students graduate, only 16% of lower-income students finish school.
While 60% of high-income students graduate, only 16% of lower-income students finish school.

Colleges and universities continue to struggle with serving low-income and first generation students.

While 60 percent of the wealthiest students complete their studies and graduate, only about 16 percent of low-income college students graduate, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Michigan State University and 10 other public-research universities have committed to improving graduation rates for all students, calling it the biggest problem facing American higher education.

The University Innovation Alliance was formed to share information and help 68,000 more students at its member institutions to graduate by 2025. The alliance’s goal is for at least half of those students being low-income.

Participating schools include Oregon State University, University of California-Riverside, Arizona State University, University of Texas-Austin, University of Kansas, Iowa State University, Purdue University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Georgia State University and University of Central Florida.

After three years, the schools report the number of graduates has increased by more than 7,200. This includes a nearly 25 percent increase in the number of low-income graduates.

One of the key successes comes from a computer program that Georgia State University in Atlanta was using.

The program reviews how students progress, and notifies advisors when a student shows signs of making mistakes or facing difficulty in their study programs. Then, advisors can reach out to help students before these problems grow.

At MSU, the computer program made a huge difference, said Kristen Renn, a professor of higher education at MSU.

“If I’m an academic advisor in chemistry and if one of my students drops calculus in the middle of a semester ... advising it was very difficult,” she told VOA. “But currently, that student dropping a class would send an alert to the adviser, who then can contact the student and say, ‘Why did you drop the class? Did you know this is required? ... Can we talk about what’s going on?’”

MSU took it a step further and examined how it communicated with its students. The administration discovered that students often overlooked important email because it was buried among too many other messages. The school greatly reduced its emails to students.

The University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas quickly began doing the same, says DeAngela Burns-Wallace, an administrator of undergraduate studies.

In return, KU shared information about its successful work-study programs with the alliance. KU paid undergraduates for research work to help support them financially and develop an early interest in research. Several other schools began to do the same.

Burns-Wallace says the sharing of information between institutions makes the alliance program so successful.

“I have colleagues that are in financial aid or ... student affairs or ... research who can pick up the phone and have a colleague at 11 other institutions give immediate feedback on a project or ... understand how the others have done it and maybe identify ... other opportunities,” she told VOA.

Bridget Burns, the executive director for the UIA, says change does not come quickly to many colleges and universities, especially large, public ones. But they need to change how they evaluate how much they help low-income students, she said.

“How well you do for low-income students has not historically been ... highlighted. ... We know that progress is possible, that we can do better. But we need to actually create ... rewards to highlight this kind of behavior.”

Burns said she hopes sharing the successes of the UIA schools will help other public and private institutions. She wants other schools to create partnerships, and devise more improvements for college students.

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Australian, Chinese university chiefs meet in Adelaide

FILE - Students walk around the University of New South Wales campus in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 1, 2020.
FILE - Students walk around the University of New South Wales campus in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 1, 2020.

Australian university leaders held talks Wednesday with their Chinese counterparts over the Canberra government’s plans to cut the number of international students. Australia has said the reductions will ease the stress on housing and reduce immigration.

Representatives from the Group of Eight Universities, which represents large research-intensive institutions in Australia, met Wednesday in Adelaide with leaders from the China Education Association for International Exchange.

The Chinese delegation included senior officials from 22 leading research-intensive universities in China.

In a joint statement, the two groups said that “our research and education links not only deliver enormous economic and social benefits for both countries, but also foster enduring people-to-people ties.”

The talks focused on “constructive dialogue focused on challenges and opportunities around university research in a fast-evolving, globalized world.”

One major challenge is Australia’s plans to cap the number of international students it allows into the country to relieve pressure on housing and rental accommodation in the major cities. It is part of a broader effort to reduce immigration.

In 2023, official data showed that 787,000 international students studied in Australia, exceeding levels seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the tertiary sector says plans to shut out some foreign students would cost the economy billions of dollars.

Vicki Thompson is the chief executive of the Group of Eight Universities. She told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Wednesday that it is unclear how far international student numbers would be cut.

“At the moment there is a lot of unknowns about what this will actually mean. We are in very good discussions with government, though. They certainly understand the impact that our international education sector has on tourism, on the economy. So, you know, they do not want to bust it either. It is just how can we come to, I guess, a compromise position where, you know, we do not damage one of our most successful export markets,” she said.

Most overseas students in Australia come from China, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam, according to government data.

Under the government’s plans, colleges and universities would have to provide purpose-built accommodation for international students if they wanted to exceed the caps on numbers.

Specific quotas for foreign students, however, have not yet been made public by the Canberra government.

Australia’s plan to curb the number of students from other countries is expected to be discussed when Chinese Premier Li Qiang meets Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Canberra next month.

Some shuttered universities appear to reopen on the web 

FILE - A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin, May 21, 2013.
FILE - A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin, May 21, 2013.

At least nine universities that have closed appeared to be looking for new students on the web, but the schools are neither accredited nor cleared to accept student aid.

In a USA Today investigation, Chris Quintana looks at what might be going on with the imposter websites. (May 2024)

Taliban push for normalizing male-only higher education

FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.
FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.

In coming weeks, tens of thousands of students in Afghanistan are set to sit for university entrance examinations.

Notably absent from the list of candidates will be females.

The upcoming exams are expected to determine the admission of about 70,000 students to public academic and professional institutions this year.

Last week, when officials from the Taliban's Ministry of Higher Education unveiled the specifics of the upcoming exams, they conspicuously omitted any mention of the exclusion of female students from university admissions.

Despite facing widespread domestic and international criticism for their prohibition of women from educational and professional opportunities, the Taliban have persisted in enforcing discriminatory gender policies.

“The exclusion of women from higher education significantly limits the country's economic potential, as half the population is unable to contribute effectively to the workforce,” David Roof, a professor of educational studies at Ball State University, wrote to VOA.

In December 2022, the Taliban suspended nearly 100,000 female students enrolled in both public and private universities across Afghanistan.

With the nation already grappling with some of the most dire female literacy rates globally, Afghanistan has failed to produce any female professionals over the past two years.

According to aid agencies, the absence of female medical professionals, compounded by other restrictions, has contributed to the deaths of thousands of young mothers in Afghanistan.

The United Nations reports that over 2.5 million Afghan school-age girls are deprived of education.

“The interruption in education can result in a generational setback, where entire cohorts of women remain uneducated and unqualified for professional roles,” Roof said.

'Hermit kingdom'

The elusive supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, purportedly responsible for the ban on women's education and employment, has never publicly clarified his directive.

Initially, when secondary schools were shuttered for girls in March 2022, Taliban officials said the action was "temporary," insisting that the Islamist leadership did not fundamentally oppose women's education.

However, more than two years later, Taliban officials have provided no rationale for the continued absence of girls from classrooms.

“They have normalized gender-apartheid,” said an Afghan women’s rights activist who did not want to be named in this article, fearing the Taliban’s persecution.

“This is a new norm in Afghanistan, however insane and destructive it may look in the rest of the world,” she added.

In January 2022, the U.S. Department of State appointed Rina Amiri as the special envoy for Afghan women, aiming to garner international backing for Afghan women's rights.

Amiri has actively engaged with Muslim leaders, emphasizing the importance of women's rights in Islam, in hopes of influencing Taliban leaders.

Despite these efforts, there has been no indication from Taliban leaders of any intention to abandon their discriminatory policies against women. “There is no indication this will subside,” Amiri told a Congressional hearing in January.

Senior U.S. officials have also warned the Taliban that there will be no normalization in their relations with the international community unless they allow women to return to work and education.

Thus far, the Taliban’s response has been that they value depriving women of basic human rights more than having normal relations with the rest of the world.

Hong Kong can help link students in US, China 

FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.
FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.

Pandemics, climate change and other global challenges require nations and scientists to work together, and student exchanges are a great way to foster that cooperation.

Writing in The South China Morning Post, Brian Y.S. Wong explains that Hong Kong has a crucial role to play in connecting students in the United States and China. (May 2024)

Learn about religious accommodations in US colleges  

FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.
FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.

From prayer services to housing options and vegetarian meal selections, colleges in the United States offer ways to accommodate students of various faiths.

In U.S. News & World Report,Anayat Durrani explains how you can learn about religious accommodations at colleges and universities. (April 2024)

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