Return to Program Profiles Clark Atlanta University

Clark Atlanta University’s First-Year College Success Program (FYCSP), supported by the CIC/Walmart Award, targeted first-year, first-generation college students in two of the largest degree programs on campus—business and the natural sciences (primarily biology). The program was developed around the conceptual framework that retention of first-generation students can be positively influenced by intentional and intrusive efforts that help these students improve academic skills and enhance their feelings of belonging at the university.

All first-year students arrived on campus in August and participated in a required Experience Week. During the week, the First-Year College Success Program students also took part in an introductory session and luncheon.

Each of the cohorts—business and the natural sciences—were enrolled in a first-year seminar taught by a member of the implementation team. And each student, through their first-year seminar instructor, was provided with a matriculation support plan. In the first-year seminar for business, the FYCSP students participated in the CEO Academy. This initiative with several Fortune 500 firms in the Metropolitan Atlanta area involved continuous, active communication and exchange between student teams and corporate representatives. The company-sponsored training sessions and active learning programs assisted students in developing critical thinking skills and other vital skill sets that are essential for professional development. The teams undertook research, case studies, and site visits. The FYCSP business teams were “adopted” by Walmart, Wells Fargo, and Delta Airlines and continued to work with their corporate sponsors throughout their matriculation. Peer leaders and mentors, assigned to the first-year seminar courses, assisted their assigned teams in preparing the cases for presentation to the corporate sponsors.

Students in the first-year biology seminar participated in “Paws to Claws,” a program that involved meeting and networking with alumni from their major fields who mixed informally with them at the beginning of the term, sharing wisdom and advice and assisting them in deciding on future career goals. A peer mentor assigned to the first-year seminar sections met regularly with students in one-on-one or small group sessions to identify issues affecting matriculation and to assist in guiding students to support services. In addition to the required mid-semester evaluation and grade reporting, the program director wrote to each FYCSP participant asking for a self-assessment update. Students were asked to share their challenges and successes, what they learned that would be of benefit for the next semester, and what will be of benefit into the future. Similarly, students in the biology seminar followed-up with essays. These activities were used as tools to keep students connected to tutorial and other support resources.

Through the grant, the university also was able to offer financial “gap” incentive awards. Students in the cohort with documented evidence of program participation were eligible to apply for the funds.

In addition, tutorial sessions in the targeted areas of business, natural sciences and mathematics, study skills, financial literacy, and life skills were offered. FYCSP students were required to participate in seminars on stress and time management and on building a college resume.

Program Outcomes

Assessment focused on four goals: increased retention among the targeted campus population (business and natural sciences students), improved academic performance including study skills and habits, increased grade point averages, and greater feelings of connectedness to the university. These goals were achieved.

The data shows that 73 percent of program participants were retained for fall 2011 and 69 percent for spring 2012, compared with 63 percent and 57 percent for all first-time, first-year students during those periods. Cumulative GPA was roughly comparable between program participants and all first-time, first-year students: 2.4 vs. 2.5 (the mean for students entering in fall 2010); 2.4 vs. 2.5 (end of academic year 2011); and 2.6 vs. 2.6 (end of academic year 2012). For students entering in fall 2011, however, program participants showed higher GPAs than the comparison group: 2.6 vs. 2.5 and 2.8 vs. 2.6 for the end of fall and end of academic year 2012, respectively.

The end-of-year surveys indicated that the program enhanced study skills and connectedness. The vast majority of participants reported regular interactions with faculty and peer mentors, regular academic advisement and academic counseling, adequate academic support services (94 percent and 100 percent in year one and two, respectively), regular use of academic support services (78 percent and 63 percent), and attendance at workshops to improve study skills and time management (81 percent and 79 percent). Major Atlanta companies “adopted” the business student cohort, and this not only benefitted the students but also strengthened the institution with its local business community. Survey data also demonstrated high levels of participation in campus organizations and activities. In year one, 75 percent of participants said, “I feel connected to Clark Atlanta University”; in year two, 79 percent of participants indicated that feeling.

Program Updates

The program has continued beyond the award period with additional funding from the office of the provost and vice president for academic affairs. The first-year seminar program already is already institutionalized as a requirement for all students, along with the newly reorganized academic support services, student engagement, and retention programs in the academic enrichment and success arm of the university’s Center for Leadership, Academic, and Student Success.