Return to Program Profiles Berea College

Berea College admits students with academic promise but limited economic resources, and most are first-generation college students from Appalachia. The CIC/Walmart College Success Awards grant supported the planning and development stages of a suite of programs at Berea for all first‐generation students, with a specific emphasis on students from Appalachian Regional Commission designated “distressed” counties. First‐generation students from these counties have lower retention and graduation rates, lower first‐term GPAs, and higher first‐term probation rates. The award developed and supported student peer mentoring and leadership, which focused on the academic, work, and residential aspects of students’ lives. These programs were paired and integrated with other programming aimed at first‐generation students and coordinated by offices throughout the campus including the Black Cultural Center, the Appalachian Center, Residence Life, Emerging Scholars Program, and the Advising, Orientation, and First‐Year programs.
Upon receiving the award, the college hired a first-generation specialist to lead project activities and build bridges between offices and departments serving first-generation students. In addition, an incoming student self‐assessment was developed to inform project services, training materials, and curriculum. Other process goals of the grant were to establish a mentoring program for first-generation students, influence the campus climate to be aware of the needs of first-generation students, and be more responsive to these needs. Information from student focus group discussions played a role in the creation of the student peer mentoring program that was implemented in the second grant year. Among the most successful aspects of the grant was the engagement of faculty members, who were first-generation students themselves and able to frame their experiences within the context of many of their students.
One of the main activities of the first-generation specialist was to focus on peer mentoring. During the first year of the grant, first-generation students were recruited to create a series of PowerPoint slides and handouts for future training of peer mentors. In the second year of the grant, eight peer leaders were chosen to provide support and assistance to 25 first-generation students in their first year at Berea. Participants met with mentors throughout the first eight weeks of the semester in both group and individual settings, and they were invited to attend various related campus events sponsored by the Black Cultural Center or Appalachian Center as a group. The project also collaborated with the Black Cultural Center on the initial creation of a mentoring program for African American male students in which students were paired with faculty and staff. The kickoff event in December involved 81 participants with 12 faculty and staff mentors.
The project activities helped prepare the Berea College community to be more informed of the challenges that first-generation students face and to begin to develop strategies and programs to respond to these challenges. In addition, funds from the grant were used to purchase resources for the training and support of the non‐traditional student peer mentoring program, a new initiative to help the college’s non‐traditional students, many of whom are of first‐generation status, identify and use the resources available to them. To help support institutional communications and identify student needs earlier, the grant assisted in the implementation of a new communications tool that the institution purchased to provide a more efficient way to track and communicate with students from their acceptance to their graduation. Berea College will broaden and extend the work supported by the award including by adapting the peer leadership model that is being incorporated in a new first-year advising model for all students and developing a bridge program that will use concepts learned through the implementation of the award and the tools that were produced.
Berea also developed a “Family Partnership Plan,” which included special sessions for first-generation parents during new student orientation. Parents were given a copy of the book The Naked Roommate: For Parents Only.

Program Outcomes

The program aimed to increase retention and achieve improved academic performance among participants. First-year grade point average changed from 2.72 in 2009 (prior to the program) to 2.71 in 2010 and 2.81 in 2011. First-year retention during the same period improved from 76 percent to 77.3 percent. Given the challenges of this targeted population (students from distressed counties in Appalachia), these performance and persistence were good.
The range of activities planned for the students, including sessions with the Black Cultural Center and the Appalachian Center, helped expand social and cultural capital. This is viewed as critical to developing a closer affinity for the institution and ultimately to success.