Tia T. Gordon
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Minority-Serving Institutions Confirm Retaining and Graduating First-Generation Minority College Students Starts with Faculty Engagement

Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative Touts Accomplishments, Offers Strategies to Help Students Attending Any U.S. College and University

Washington, D.C., Sept. 6, 2012—Thirty Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), including Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Tribal Colleges and Universities, are putting forth a roadmap of promising practices to foster academic success among first-generation college students, or those students whose parents did not attend a postsecondary institution. In a new report released from the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), these MSIs are presenting faculty-driven, classroom-based strategies—all proven to bring about significant and successful results when it comes to identifying and addressing challenges unique to first-generation students—based on their experiences as participants in the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative, a $4.2 million program launched in 2009 and that officially ends today.

The brief, Supporting First-Generation College Students Through Classroom-Based Practices, captures how the 30 MSIs leveraged support from the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative to develop a multipronged approach premised on the notion that what takes place in the classroom is central to the college experience. Specifically, the report shares exactly how the institutions integrated faculty members as principal agents to create a more engaging learning environment—ultimately, promoting stronger performance academically and socially among first-generation students. In addition, the brief provides insights from the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative participants on how to redesign instructional styles and course content, use data to develop and sustain programs, and secure community partnerships and support.

"Conversations around supporting first-generation students need to begin with the classroom, which is a perspective often overlooked,” said IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D. “Through the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative, we learned that faculty contributions and support are paramount to successful academically driven initiatives that target first-generation student achievement. These individuals are students’ primary point of contact in the classroom, and they can provide a powerful connection between in-class and out-of-class learning experiences for students new to college life.”

Several recommendations along with examples of success can already be drawn from this work. They include:

  • Engage faculty early in the process and provide continuous support. For example, Bloomfield College created a revised developmental math curriculum that aligns developmental standards with the general education program. As a result, over 80 percent of students passed the first of two developmental math courses, and over 40 percent of the students will have completed the second developmental math course, as well as their college-level math course, by the end of the freshman year.
  • Embrace curricular change as a way to improve student success. For example, Claflin University’s Learning in Communities for Success Project enrolls first-generation students in linked courses—English, math, and freshman orientation—to produce collaborative learning among students and faculty. As a result, 100 percent of students completed freshman orientation, 90 percent completed English 101 and Math 111 successfully, and 17 percent maintained a cumulative GPA between 3.0 and 4.0.
  • Amplify institutional capacity to identify and track first-generation students and other unique student populations. For example, New Jersey City University's Language and Literacy Partnership Program facilitates team teaching for the university's first-year experience (FYE) efforts. A team of eight faculty members from the English, English as a Second Language education, and writing center divisions embarked on a research study of best practices in reading and writing pedagogy in creating the revised FYE program. As a result, 53 percent of FYE students in the fall reported that they “applied concepts from or knowledge they learned in class to other areas of life,” increasing to 63 percent in the spring; and more than three-quarters of FYE students reported that they had “thought about sentence structure, word-choice, or organization as they were writing,” climbing to 83 percent the following semester.
  • Ensure that promising practices are visible both internally and externally. For example, Navajo Technical College created a solar power oven, which now provides the entire Navajo community an alternative, greener energy system to prepare food. As a result, multiple research projects across various disciplines have been initiated, some students have received national recognition and represented the institution and state in national competitions, and deeper connections among the local tribe and residents have been created to directly benefit everyone.

“It’s exciting to see the creative ways that faculty members are working together, across disciplines and departments, to help first-generation students succeed in college,” said Michelle Gilliard, senior director of the Walmart Foundation. “We are also encouraged by the institutions that are integrating successful strategies from this grant into their general education and departmental requirements. It means the efforts that should be sustained, will be sustained.”

MSIs enroll a disproportionate number of underserved student populations because many MSIs support more open admissions policies and tend to enroll more students from low- and moderate-income communities where they are located. About 42 percent of students enrolled at MSIs are first-generation, as opposed to 33 percent of students enrolled at predominantly White institutions.

The 30 MSIs participating in the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative each received a $100,000 capacity-building grant to help build upon programs that support first-generation students. Selected through a highly competitive application process, the first cohort of 15 institutions began their work in summer 2009 while a second cohort was selected in spring 2010. Every institution benefited from IHEP staff and consultant support, and is continuing their campus work beyond the conclusion of the grant.

MSIs participating in the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative include:

  • Adams State College
  • Bennett College for Women
  • Bloomfield College
  • Bowie State University
  • California State University-Fresno
  • Claflin University
  • Colorado State University-Pueblo
  • Coppin State University
  • Delaware State University
  • El Camino College
  • Florida International University
  • Fort Belknap College
  • Hampton University
  • La Guardia Community College
  • Leech Lake Tribal College
  • Mount St. Mary’s College
  • Navajo Technical College
  • New Jersey City University
  • Norfolk State University
  • Northwest Indian College
  • Salish Kootenai College
  • Spelman College
  • Tennessee State University
  • United Tribes Technical College
  • University of the District of Columbia
  • University of Houston-Downtown
  • University of the Incarnate Word
  • University of New Mexico
  • Valencia Community College
  • Winston-Salem State University

For more information about the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative, visit IHEP’s website at www.ihep.com.


Learning Communities from ralston smith on Vimeo.

Developmental Education from ralston smith on Vimeo.

Faculty Development from ralston smith on Vimeo.

About the Institute for Higher Education Policy

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to promoting access to and success in higher education for all students. Based in Washington, D.C., IHEP develops innovative policy- and practice-oriented research to guide policymakers and education leaders, who develop high-impact policies that will address our nation’s most pressing education challenges.

About Philanthropy at Walmart

Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are proud to support initiatives that are helping people live better around the globe. In May 2010, Walmart and its Foundation made a historic pledge of $2 billion through 2015 to fight hunger in the U.S. The Walmart Foundation also supports education, workforce development, environmental sustainability, and health and wellness initiatives. To learn more, visit www.walmartfoundation.org.