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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.

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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What Did Justin, a Golden Retriever Mix, Do to Earn a Diploma?

FILE - Dozens of golden retrievers gather with their owners, and some other breeds, to pose for photos and play together in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 16, 2023.

Justin is a service dog and accompanied his owner (who graduated with honors) to every single class for four years. The student’s university honored the dog’s hard work with his very own diploma, which he accepted, tail wagging, in front a cheering stadium of other graduates.

See Justin’s walk across the stage in this story from Bill Chappell of NPR. (May 2023)

What Are US Diplomats Doing to Further International Education?

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in Denver, Colorado, April 28, 2023.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken touted his department’s achievements in a recent address to NAFSA: Association of International Educators. The State Department has relaxed student visa and study abroad requirements. In fact, it issued over a half-million student visas last year – the highest number in five years. Blinken, who spent part of his childhood in France, thanked educators for “helping us to see the world through another’s eyes.”

Watch his remarks in this press release from the State Department. (May 2023)

Soon-to-Be Graduates Put COVID Behind Them

Soon-to-Be Graduates Put COVID Behind Them
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, learning lagged for students around the world, including the U.S., where many had access to online learning. Now these soon-to-be graduates say they are behind in certain subjects because of time missed at school. VOA’s Laurel Bowman sat down with high school seniors on the cusp of graduation. Camera: Adam Greenbaum, Saqib Ul Islam.

Former US Congresswoman Liz Cheney Urges Graduates Not to Compromise With the Truth

Former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney, a Republican who represented Wyoming, delivers the commencement address at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, May 28, 2023.

Former U.S. Congresswoman Liz Cheney implored new college graduates to not compromise when it comes to the truth, excoriating her House Republican colleagues for not doing enough to combat former President Donald Trump's lies that the 2020 election was stolen.

In a commencement speech at Colorado College, the Wyoming Republican repeated her fierce criticisms of Trump but steered clear of talking about his 2024 reelection campaign or her own political future.

Cheney, who graduated from Colorado College in 1988, recalled being a political science student walking into a campus building where a Bible verse was inscribed above the entrance that read, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

"After the 2020 election and the attack of January 6th, my fellow Republicans wanted me to lie. They wanted me to say the 2020 election was stolen, the attack of January 6th wasn't a big deal, and Donald Trump wasn't dangerous," Cheney said Sunday in Colorado Springs, connecting her experiences as a student to her work in the U.S. House of Representatives. "I had to choose between lying and losing my position in House leadership."

In three terms in office, Cheney rose to the No. 3 GOP leadership position in the House, a job she lost after voting to impeach Trump for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and then not relenting in her criticism of the former president.

Cheney's speech touched on themes similar to those she has promoted since leaving office in January: addressing her work on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and standing up to the threat she believes Trump poses to democracy. She also encouraged more women to run for office and criticized one of the election-denying attorneys who worked for Trump after the 2020 election for recent remarks about college students voting.

"Cleta Mitchell, an election denier and adviser to former President Trump, told a gathering of Republicans recently that it is crucially important to make sure that college students don't vote," Cheney said. "Those who are trying to unravel the foundations of our republic, who are threatening the rule of law and the sanctity of our elections, know they can't succeed if you vote."

In an audio recording of Mitchell's presentation from a recent Republican National Committee retreat, she warns of polling places on college campuses and the ease of voting as potential problems, The Washington Post reported.

Most students and parents in the audience applauded throughout Cheney's remarks, yet some booed. Some students opposing the choice of Cheney as speaker turned their chairs away from the stage as she spoke.

Cheney's busy speaking schedule and subject matter have fueled speculation about whether she may enter the 2024 GOP presidential primary since she left office. Candidates ranging from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley have calibrated their remarks about Trump, aiming to counter his attacks without alienating the supporters that won him the White House seven years ago.

Though some have offered measured criticisms, no declared or potential challenger has embraced anti-Trump messaging to the same extent as Cheney. She did not reference her plans on Sunday but has previously said she remains undecided about whether she wants to run for president.

Though she would face an uphill battle, Cheney's fierce anti-Trump stance and her role as vice chairwoman of the House committee elevated her platform high enough to call on a national network of donors and Trump critics to support a White House run.

A super PAC organized to support of her candidacy has remained active, including purchasing attack ads on New Hampshire airwaves against Trump this month.

After leaving office and being replaced by a Trump-backed Republican who defeated her in last year's primary, Cheney was appointed to a professorship at the University of Virginia and wrote "Oath and Honor," a memoir scheduled to hit shelves in November.

Two of Cheney's five children as well as her mother are also graduates of the liberal arts college.

Cheney's speaking tour appears to be picking up. She is scheduled to appear Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference in Michigan.

How Are Girls in Afghanistan Continuing Their Education?

FILE - Afghan university students chant slogans and hold placards during a protest against the ban on university education for women, in Quetta, Pakistan, Dec. 24, 2022.

After the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in 2021, they severely limited access to education for girls. Yet a club founded in the U.S., Flowers for the Future, helps Afghan girls keep learning through Zoom meetings with U.S. students. Two students, one Afghan, one American, describe their journey with the program and what it's taught them about grit, resilience and the importance of learning. Read the essays by Mahsa Kosha and Emily Khossaravi in the Hechinger Report. (May 2023)

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