Degrees with Less Debt

Which universities strongly attended by St. Louis area students are most effectively graduating low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color with less debt? More importantly, what are they doing? A new report finds out.

Commissioned by a task force of St. Louis Graduates and supported by funding from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA), Degrees With Less Debt: Effective Higher Education Strategies for Underrepresented Student Populations ranks area higher education institutions to identify those graduating more students than predicted with less debt. Institutions considered for the report have a minimum 25% Pell recipients and 50% six-year graduation rates.

After running the numbers based on publicly available data, the five institutions identified through the research are: Maryville University, Missouri State University, Southeast Missouri State University, University of Central Missouri and Webster University.

The report, produced by the Illinois Education Research Council at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, further identifies five cross-cutting strategies employed at the five institutions:

  • university leadership
  • coordinated and caring community
  • early college experiences
  • flexible and sufficient financial aid, and
  • just-in-time academic supports.

Through interviews with administrative leaders and student focus groups, the report delves into how each of the five universities is implementing strategies to support underrepresented students.

“One of the key findings of the report is the importance of university leadership committed to diversity, equity and inclusion,” notes principal investigator Janet K. Holt, Ph.D., former Executive Director of the Illinois Education Research Council. “Presidents lead in creating a campus culture that values, supports and engages underrepresented students. Through interactions with their campus presidents and other campus leaders, students at the five institutions were forming a stronger bond to their universities.”

Not surprisingly, institutional commitment to flexible and sufficient financial aid was identified as a primary concern of students.  With increasing tuition and fees, students valued their colleges’ efforts to close gaps with institutional need-based aid and provide flexible emergency aid to address changing life circumstances. Also cited were the personal financial commitments two of the five university presidents made to scholarships for students of color and first-generation students.