In response to President Obama’s Higher Education Summit

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President Obama this week convened a higher education summit of college presidents and nonprofit and business leaders, challenging them to expand low-income students’ access to college, a close tie to his goal of increasing college completion rates in America. I am pleased with this call-to-action because it reflects our own call-to-action for student success, a core tenet of VCU’s Quest for Distinction strategic plan.

It also reflects a top priority of mine. One of the areas to which I am pleased to devote my time to is fundraising for scholarships. I am committed to establishing relationships and securing private support to help ensure that motivated students with the greatest need are able to attend VCU. Additionally, in the last four years, VCU has tripled the volume of internal financial aid — approximately $4 million to $12 million — increasing accessibility to highly qualified and diverse students. VCU continues to reallocate funding to financial aid by creating more efficient operations and focusing on improved asset and investment management.

Access, retention and graduation are and have been priority at Virginia Commonwealth University — they are embedded in our strategic plan and they are integral to being a premier urban, public research university focused on academic success.

We enroll more Virginians than our Tier III research university peers and we are the second largest institution in the commonwealth with more than 31,000 students. First-year retention rates have risen dramatically over the last eight years and have stabilized at about 86 percent.

While we have much yet to achieve, our six-year graduation rates have increased steadily, reaching 56 percent in 2012-13. The Education Trust ranked VCU among the top 25 public institutions nationwide for increasing African-American and Hispanic student graduation rates and for closing the graduation rate gap for black and Hispanic students.

Just this year, we set forth an enhancement plan focused on our core curriculum, digital engagement, academic advising and career planning and development. This plan will help ensure retention and graduation — and add value to the VCU degree.