Alliance members exceed 10-year goal in six years

Bethmari Márquez Barreto is preparing for a new role on stage and in the classroom.

The Puerto Rico native and first-generation student graduated from Iowa State this spring with a degree in performing arts, and is moving soon to Minnesota to begin her career with CLIMB Theatre, St. Paul. In her new role, Márquez Barreto will use theater and art to teach students about resiliency, accountability and empathy, and also travel the state performing in a variety of productions.

Reaching this stage is a testament to Márquez Barreto's hard work and determination, but heading into her final semester she questioned if it would even be possible. With just 17 credits needed to complete her degree, Márquez Barreto realized she couldn't pay her full tuition bill.

"There was one time, a moment, when I thought of quitting school and working to save money, pay my loans and then go back to school," Márquez Barreto said. "If I had done that, I don't think I would have finished college."

In search of help, Márquez Barreto contacted the office of student financial aid. She explained her situation with the hope of getting enough assistance to cover a portion of what she owed and then work to pay for the rest. She got more than she had hoped for -- a Troxel Award completion grant to cover the balance on her tuition bill.

"I was like, 'oh my god.' I started crying."

Completion grants make a difference

As a founding member of the University Innovation Alliance, a national consortium of innovative public research universities working to improve student success, Iowa State implemented the UIA Completion Grant program in 2017. The program provides assistance to students who are approaching graduation, but face financial hurdles to complete their education. Since 2017, Iowa State has issued over $386,000 in UIA Completion Grants to 661 students.

Sebastian Speer, Iowa State's UIA Fellow, says the average grant is $585 -- a relatively small amount that can make the difference between students, like Márquez Barreto, completing their degree or not. The grants are one of several UIA initiatives created to reach a goal, set during former President Barack Obama's College Opportunity Summit, to graduate an additional 68,000 students over the course of 10 years.

Six years in, the UIA schools have exceeded that goal by graduating an additional 73,573 students, increasing the number of graduates from low-income backgrounds by 36% and graduates of color by 73%. The institutions are now projected to graduate a total of 136,000 by 2023 -- double the original goal launched at the White House College Opportunity Day of Action in 2014.

Since the launch, Iowa State graduated an additional 9,014 students -- a 37% increase overall and a 169% increase in underrepresented students. As part of the UIA's next phase of work, Iowa State will focus on eliminating disparities in educational outcomes based on race and ethnicity, income, generational status, gender and geography.

"Developing innovative solutions to help our students overcome academic and financial obstacles ensures they stay on a path toward graduation," said President Wendy Wintersteen. "Preparing students from all socioeconomic backgrounds to enter the workforce and be successful also improves our country's economic potential." 

About the alliance

The University Innovation Alliance is a national consortium of public research universities working to regain America's economic competitive edge by helping more students graduate with a high-quality and affordable education. Member institutions accomplish this by broadening participation in higher education and implementing proven programs that significantly improve graduation rates for all students regardless of socioeconomic background. 

In addition to Iowa State, the alliance's founding members are: Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, Purdue University, Ohio State University, University of California, Riverside, University of Central Florida, University of Kansas and University of Texas, Austin.