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University hailed for closing achievement gap

News Feature

News & Events

December 7, 2015

A new report by The Education Trust has found “real improvements” at a number of four-year public institutions across the nation in their graduation rates and has cited Bridgewater State University in the top 10 of those with the highest gains.


BSU has achieved results in improving graduation rates for all undergraduate students – namely increasing the overall six-year graduation rate by more than 6 percent over the past five years – while closing the achievement gap experienced by students from a range of under-represented groups.


A two-pronged approach that includes implementing data-driven interventions focused on supporting the success of all students in addition to the use of high-impact practices including paid student internships, first- and second-year seminars, and programs such as writing across the curriculum, has resulted in BSUs number nine ranking on The Education Trust Top-Gaining Four-Year Public Institutions list.


The Education Trust’s report is titled, Rising Tide: Do College Grad Rate Gains Benefit All Students? It states that more than two-thirds of all four-year public colleges and universities increased graduation rates from 2003-2013. And among the 255 institutions that improved and serve a sizeable population of African-American, Latino and Native students, 77 percent raised graduation rates for their underrepresented minority students.


Despite the good news, “too many institutions are not even narrowing longstanding gaps between groups,” the study found. And looking underneath the averages, the report discovered different patterns for differing groups of students.


BSU has adopted a range of comprehensive interventions designed to support the success of all students and has used data to identify groups of BSU students that, like similar students at institutions nationwide, are experiencing opportunity and achievement gaps.


Once identified, best practices in higher education, combined with intensive campus discussion and buy-in have led to the implementation of interventions that will best serve specific groups of students are lagging behind. This targeted approach focused on groups of students experiencing opportunity and achievement gaps not only yields positive student success results, but also optimizes use of university fiscal and personnel resources. 


For example, BSU opened the Veterans Center to provide a comprehensive “one-stop” office to support the success of military and veteran students. In January, Bridgewater will pilot the Bridgewater State University Retention Grants designed for undergraduate students who are in good academic standing, close to graduation, have genuine financial need, and modest unpaid tuition and fee balances that are preventing them from persisting. Students accepted into the program will have their outstanding bill, paid by the retention grant.


The Education Trust Report highlights 26 institutions – including Bridgewater – that are achieving the dual goal of increasing graduation rates for all students, while closing gaps. In addition, the report calls out 17 institutions that had declining graduation rates for underrepresented minority students while graduation rates for white students improved.


Dr. Sabrina Gentlewarrior, BSU’s inaugural vice president for Student Success and Diversity, a division created by new BSU President Frederick W. Clark Jr., Esq. ’83, said, “student success is the singular focus of Fred Clark’s presidency. Every decision made here begins with one question: ‘How does this support the success of our students?’ That is the ethos that exists here, and we are deepening it every day.”


This student-success orientation has resulted in rising rates of graduation for Bridgewater students overall, and is closing achievement and opportunity gaps for students of low-income, Pell Grant-eligible families, students of color and male students.


“Leading institutions have shown how leaders can change the culture of their campus to focus on student success,” said Dr. Andrew H. Nichols, The Education Trust’s director of higher education research and data analytics and co-author of the report. “They consistently analyze their data, they find troubling trends, they engage faculty to find solutions, and they listen to students and make them part of the problem-solving process.”


For example, from 2005-2009, the six-year graduation rates for male students of color are up by more than 25 percent. While the results have been impressive, Dr. Gentlewarrior said the process is ongoing and requires continuous campus-wide work and assessment. “BSU is committed to the success of every one of our students,” she said.


See attachment for more information about BSU’s graduation rates. (Story by Eva T. Gaffney, G’01, for University News & Media)

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