Grant Program Aims to Enhance First-Generation Student Success

In support of consortial projects designed to enhance first-generation and low-income student success at independent colleges and universities, CIC recently awarded a total of $100,000 in First Opportunity Partner grants to four of its State Fund Members. The funded initiatives aim to improve retention and graduation rates by expanding peer-mentoring programs; connecting students with faculty mentors; providing students with experiential learning opportunities; and revising “gateway courses” in light of factors that affect particularly first-generation student success.

“Enhancing the academic experience and college success of first-generation students is a top priority for most CIC member institutions,” noted CIC President Richard Ekman. “The fact that our State Fund Members are developing creative collaborative approaches to address this issue is important and will benefit all CIC colleges and universities.”

The four grants, which require the state consortia to raise matching funds, will support projects to be implemented during the 2016–2017 academic year:

The North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities will launch its Gateways to Completion Project. The project aims to identify practical and effective methods to improve retention and graduation rates for first-generation and low-income students by helping faculty members analyze and redesign historically high failure-rate “gateway courses” in disciplines such as biology, chemistry, history (survey), English, and math (algebra and calculus). Participating faculty members will use analytics to identify key issues that affect the success rate of at-risk students in these courses and to determine approaches that could improve learning outcomes and class performance.

To deepen student engagement in STEM fields, the Independent College Fund of New Jersey will provide minority and first-generation students with faculty mentors to build their academic and career potential through participation in undergraduate research projects and a culminating symposium. The program is designed to increase retention of at-risk students in college and to boost the number of minority students in the sciences and mathematics.

Also addressing the retention of at-risk students, the Associated Colleges of Illinois (ACI) will expand its current Peer Mentoring Program. Longitudinal studies conducted by ACI show that peer mentors—students trained to guide and assist those facing academic challenges—have proven to be a highly effective means of increasing retention rates in the target population. This project will enable ACI to expand its peer mentoring network by three institutions.

The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges project will provide more first-generation, minority, and low-income students with the opportunity to participate in experiential learning programs. Study abroad, service-learning, and internships enrich a student’s college experience and enhance opportunities upon graduation. Students from the target populations are currently underrepresented among those participating in experiential learning programs.

The First Opportunity Partner grant program supports initiatives coordinated by a State Fund office for multiple colleges and universities in a collaboration to increase college educational opportunities for first-generation, minority, or lower-income students. The 2015–2016 projects are generously supported by the UPS Foundation. Since its launch in 2005, this program has distributed 35 grants totaling more than $1.1 million to 31 of CIC’s State Fund Members. They have raised nearly $1.4 million in matching funds.