Return to Program Profiles University of St. Francis

University of St. Francis implemented the University Success Scholars Program (USSP) to enable students to understand college expectations, meet academic and social demands, participate in engaging experiences, and prepare for leadership. A network of support provided a clear path to success for first-generation students and the vital links necessary for academic achievement, moral support, sense of belonging, and guidance.
The program consisted of four components during students’ first two years. The first element consisted of two opportunities to ease transition to college. A five-day summer academy or bridge program allowed students to live in residence halls and experience college-level coursework through a one-credit, multidisciplinary course. With its holistic approach, this experience permitted students to make mistakes—and learn from them—before their first semester began.
Students also could elect to have a peer or faculty mentor to provide connections and guidance through their first semester. To extend the reach of the summer academy, three activities were held during the fall semester, and summer academy faculty members served as mentors to two or three of their students. The number of students requesting a peer mentor increased from 22 students in 2010 to 35 students in 2011. Students were assigned to one of the trained upper-class students for a mentoring experience. Most mentors in year two had themselves been first-generation students from the USSP.
The University Success Scholars (USS) organization met throughout the year to answer questions, provide advice, and offer opportunities to increase student engagement through tutoring, workshops, cultural field trips, social events, and student-faculty engagement programming.
The Leadership Institute provided activities and workshops that enabled students to develop and hone leadership skills to become future student leaders of the summer academy.
Financial assistance was provided through book vouchers to offset textbook costs as well as a computer loan program that enabled students to borrow a laptop for an evening or weekend to complete assignments and projects.
To be a University Success Scholar, a student agreed to participate in either the summer academy or the first hand mentors program and attend two additional meetings during each semester. The first year 29 students joined the scholars. The second year 46 students participated, including 20 returning students. During each meeting, faculty who were first-generation college students were invited to share the story of their journey through college to their present position. Each story showed the many paths to success. Each meeting also addressed issues relevant for the time of the semester. Topics included how to make the most of advising, leadership exercises, and next steps in their college journey. Students also created their own end-of-year event, an Academic Achievement Ceremony to share with their family and friends. Finally, the group elected officers for the coming year. Students who were not aware of the program in August but saw friends participating asked to join.

Program Outcomes

The greatest impact of the award is reflected in the first-generation students’ GPAs and retention rates. Data show that students participating in summer academy, mentors, and/or USS had improved academic performance, fewer academic warnings, and increased retention.
The first-year, first-generation students performed almost identically to all first-year, first-time students and were retained at almost identical levels. For example, in the fall 2009 semester the first-generation students earned a GPA of 3.03 compared with 3.01 for the whole class, and their retention rate was 92 percent vs. 94 percent for the whole class. Those statistics were repeated through the life of the award, even though this level of performance would not necessarily be expected for the first-generation students.
The variety of programs and opportunities led to expanded social and cultural capital for participants and greater identification with the institution.

Program Updates

The Associated Colleges of Illinois (ACI) selected the University of St Francis for an award of five $2,000 College Success Network scholarships for first-generation college students with financial need or from diverse backgrounds. The recipients for these scholarships were selected from the University Success Scholars.
Then, based on the results of the work with Summer Academy and the University Success Scholars, ACI provided additional funding to provide programming for the parents of first-generation students. The university, through its counseling services, also began a support group for first-generation students and an information series for the parents of first-generation students. At the students’ initiative, a new VISTA volunteer helped students provide additional social opportunities, create a video for parents, and establish a one-day conference for area first-generation college students.