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WSU joins national effort to ensure value of a college degree

WSU graduates celebrate as confetti falls following a commencement ceremony.
Baseline data shows that college graduates are three-and-a-half times more likely to significantly improve their income bracket (Photo by WSU Photo Services)

Washington State University has joined a nationwide effort led by the National Association of System Heads (NASH) to increase degree and credential completion, improve social mobility, and reduce student debt.

NASH, an association of chief executives at 48 U.S. public college and university systems, announced the new data-driven initiative in December at its annual Power of Systems conference. 

As the country grapples with rising costs of living, NASH aims to assure Americans in the grips of a fierce public debate over the value of a degree that college is, in fact, worth it.

“By taking a data-driven approach to student success, we will be able to clearly show the numerous advantages and other benefits associated with a college degree,” said WSU System President Kirk Schulz. “This work is absolutely critical in ensuring that colleges and universities are able to meet the nation’s workforce needs going forward.”

The organization developed three data-driven milestones at its Power of Systems conference to achieve this goal: 

  • Increasing degree & credential completion
    NASH member systems will produce over 1,000,000 additional degrees and credentials by 2030. This will be accomplished by collectively increasing degree and credential completion by 35% from 2019-20 baseline levels by 2030. Additionally, equity gaps will be reduced by 50% by 2030, resulting in an additional 80,000 degrees and credentials for minoritized students.
  • Improving social mobility
    By 2040, NASH member systems will advance 85% of students from families in the bottom 40% of the income distribution to the top 60% of the income distribution, and 65% of students in the bottom 40% to the top 40%. To measure progress, by 2030, the median income of students in the bottom tertile eight years after enrollment will exceed the national median.
  • Reducing student debt
    By 2030, NASH member systems will decrease the median debt borrowed by Pell students by 25% from 2020-21 baseline levels. In addition, the equity gap in three-year repayment rates between Pell recipients and non-Pell recipients will be reduced by 50% from 2019-20 baseline levels (19 points). This would result in an estimated $7 billion reduction in borrowing by low-income students by 2030.

To help achieve its goal, NASH partnered with NCHEMS to create a novel dataset and baseline report, which allows a view of NASH member system performance across the three metrics from 2019-20. 

“American higher education is at a crossroads: our nation needs a highly skilled workforce to compete globally, but college enrollments continue to decline,” said Rebecca Martin, executive director of NASH. “Our new metrics paint a clear picture that university leaders understand the challenge at hand and are prepared to roll up their sleeves and get to work to ensure our students are successful on campus and in their careers.”

NASH also recently awarded two Catalyst Fund grants to WSU for projects aimed at scaling best practices for student success.

One of the grants supports the WSU Pullman Chapter of Making Every Campus a Refuge (ECAR), which has successfully hosted a family in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and will collaborate with the College of Nursing at WSU-Spokane as an ideal location for expansion in the future.

The other is supporting, WSU’s Transformational Change Initiative (TCI), which has three components that use evidence-based strategies to increase student’s academic resiliency. These include a handbook for WSU-bound students and their parents that includes interactive exercises and strategies for identifying core values, developing a sense of purpose, and engaging in value-based decision making. A peer-mentoring program to facilitate students’ early connection with high-impact learning opportunities. And finally, a four-part faculty development workshop series on pedagogies and behavior interventions that foster connection and belonging, values-based decision-making, mindfulness and self-compassion, and resiliency and growth mindset.

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