Published: October 27, 2011
In an effort to increase college graduation rates for first-generation and under-represented students, Helios Education Foundation and The University of Tampa have partnered on a new initiative called “Student Success – Responding to a National Imperative.” Helios is investing $1.3 million over four years in the initiative.
Specifically, the targeted students include full-time UT students who are studying mathematics, education, technology and science-related disciplines, who are members of minority groups and/or are first-generation college students and who are from the state of Florida.
Student success in the program will be measured by increased persistence and graduation rates of the cohorts, and increased engagement of the students in all aspects of the college experience.
Specifically, UT ultimately expects gains in graduation rates of up to 17 percent within the targeted population. It also expects to see gains in students’ perceptions of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences and supportive campus environment.
Within UT’s current enrollment, 282 students have been identified as the initial cohort.
Shani Bennett, a freshman from Miami, is a minority student who is in the initial cohort. She is undecided about her major, but has considered pre-dentistry. “I’m looking at everything,” she says. Although she has been at UT only for a few weeks, she has enjoyed the Helios program scholarship, the networking with other students and getting to work eight hours a week for the Office of Career Service. Obtaining a job on campus is one part of the Helios grant program, which so far has been beneficial for Bennett.
“I get exposure to different employers and meet a lot of new people,” Bennett said. She added that she and her Helios student mentor have already talked about future class schedules, and about doing community service at a local school.
This initial cohort is made up of students who traditionally need additional support mechanisms for the challenges they face in college, said UT President Ronald L. Vaughn. And while over the past 15 years UT has committed tremendous resources to student development and support services, including substantial investments in infrastructures, the Helios partnership provides a boost.
“UT has a demonstrated track record in student success initiatives, but we aspire to higher achievement,” Vaughn said. “This partnership with Helios Education Foundation provides the high speed on-ramp we envision for student success.”
The program reaches across academic, enrollment, student services and financial aid. Strategies for implementation include:
- Formation of an Office of Student Success.
- Creation of micro academic communities in which students can interact with faculty and staff.
- Providing “gap” financial aid for students with the greatest financial needs.
- Development of programs that link students’ academic areas with the campus offices of Advising and Career Services, thus ensuring successful career development.
- Developing merit-based incentive awards for students who have demonstrated academic success after their first year.
- Creating new on-campus employment opportunities.
- Selecting current graduate and undergraduate students to serve as academic coaches and program mentors.
“Preparing students for the academic rigor of a college education is only part of the equation,” said Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul Luna. “We have to ensure that those same students, once in college, persist and complete that education. That’s why we’re so supportive of the University of Tampa’s Student Success initiative which wraps academic, social and financial support around incoming first-generation and under-represented students, helping them succeed and graduate.”
Lorie Kittendorf, UT’s director of student success, said that with the Helios grant UT can approach the support of this student population intentionally and tactically. She also added that the program is unique in that support of the program will largely rest on students, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, who will connect with the students of interest in targeted ways.
"We never know what person, event or moment will help a student connect to an institution, but we do know how crucial student engagement and involvement are for persistence and success,” Kittendorf said. “Our team of graduate academic coaches and undergraduate peers will hopefully serve as a key resource for the information, advice, support and involvement that are so critical for student learning and persistence.”