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Guilford College used the CIC/Walmart College Success Award to implement the Center for Continuing Education (CCE) Gateways to Success program to address issues facing adult first-generation students. The program was designed to foster the success of adult first-generation students by forming links between the students and existing campus and community resources and by establishing new services and programs that would be effective and appropriate for this population.
New adult first-generation students met with counselors to learn about the college and the services it provides. They also were invited to social events to interact with other students and faculty members. Upon enrollment, high-risk adult first-generation students were paired with trained peer mentors with whom they met regularly. In addition, all adult first-generation students attended workshops and seminars on topics that address adult first-generation student needs and had an opportunity to attend networking events with a range of faculty members, administrators, and other students.

Program Outcomes

The Gateways program enrolled 21 students for fall 2010, 23 for spring 2011, three for summer 2011, 26 for fall 2011, and 10 for spring 2012, for a combined total of 83 students from the targeted campus population (adult learners). The college expected greater demand for the program but believes that many students were reluctant to sign up for fear of being stigmatized in some way. Another related issue was that most of the adult students who attend Guilford enter the program with some transfer credit and do not think they need a Gateways program. Non-first-generation students and those who declined the invitation to participate subsequently approached the Gateways team and inquired about participation, however.
Increased retention was one of the outcomes of the program. Out of 21 adult first-generation students who began in the Gateways program during the fall 2010 semester, 19 (90.5 percent) successfully completed their first semester and 20 (95.2 percent) registered for the spring 2011 semester. This compares favorably to the fall-to-spring persistence rate for all adult students in the Center for Continuing Education, which was 83.8 percent, and the persistence of all new fall 2010 admits, which was 79.3 percent. As of August 2011, 85 percent of the first Gateways cohort had registered for the fall 2011 term, compared to only 76 percent for all continuing adult students. As of August, of the second cohort, only 75 percent had registered for fall, compared to 76 percent of all continuing students. The cohort beginning in fall 2011 had an 88 percent persistence rate. Surprisingly, the spring 2012 cohort had a higher rate than previous groups, with 80 percent returning for the fall 2012 semester, possibly the result of a smaller group and more personal interaction.
One disturbing trend was that despite their strong start, Gateways first-generation students’ GPAs and persistence rates dropped over time to match or trail that of all other new students. Ironically, their first-generation mentors continued to turn in higher persistence rates, GPAs, and graduation rates than their counterparts. The mentors’ continuation in the mentoring program over two years or until they graduated possibly kept them more engaged.
Staff members associated with the program have presented their results and information gained about challenges faced by adult first-generation students at several conferences, including the CIC/Walmart College Success Awards conference “Bridging the Cultural Divides” in July 2011, the North Carolina Adult Education Association conferences in October 2011 and March 2012, and the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities conference in September 2011. One of the CCE staff members also has chaired a North Carolina statewide committee on best practices in peer mentoring programs based on her experience with the Gateways program and presented Guilford’s results to the entire Guilford College community and the Guilford Alumni Board in an effort to recruit additional mentors for 2012–2013 and inspire others to become involved in peer mentoring for students of all ages.

Program Updates

After the grant ended, enrollment remained about the same and, in fact, increased from spring 2012. The college found that Gateways students and mentors generally outperformed their non-Gateways counterparts academically. As a result of the performance of Gateways students and mentors, the college decided to open the Gateways course to all students, beginning with the fall 2012 semester.
The college also will continue to provide mentors for students who ask for them and to recommend that at-risk and first-generation students join the Friend-to-Friend peer mentoring program. Limited funding from personal gifts allows Guilford to provide some support for the mentors and mentoring activities.