Partnership for Student Opportunity and Success: Accelerate U! at MSU
The call for higher education attainment at all levels is growing, and finding out what may increase student success metrics is necessary for states to thrive in today’s knowledge-based global economy. Increasing the educational level of Americans holds the potential to increase the salaries of those who obtain higher degrees, as well as increase the tax base for the communities in which they live. By increasing the number of citizens with degrees, an enhanced quality of life for everyone, not just students obtaining degrees, is possible (Jones, 2011; National Governors Association Chair’s Initiative [NGACI], 2011; Zumeta, Breneman, Callan, & Finney, 2012).
If higher education institutions are to meet the challenges of providing access to education for students who have traditionally been underserved by higher education and holding up new measures of accountability in graduating students, postsecondary institutions must rethink how they engage with students.
Murray State University (MSU) and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) are located in far western Kentucky and work to meet mirroring missions of ensuring student success and serving regional needs. Both institutions are faced with budgetary strains and changing rules regarding developmental course offerings for students who do not meet required placement test scores in key areas of reading, math and English. Beginning in the Spring of 2018, MSU and WKCTC began a conversation about the possibility of partnering to provide opportunities for students. This conversation developed into an idea of collaboration between MSU and WKCTC on a combination of strategies that were already in use at WKCTC, which were producing positive outcomes that could benefit students. In the following weeks, fruitful discussions between teams representing multiple functions of both institutions (financial aid, recruiting, bursar, and other student support services) occurred, resulting in the creation of Accelerate U! (AU!) at MSU.
AU! at MSU combines research-supported strategies for retention and student success. Students who are in AU! at MSU are required to live on campus and encouraged to involve themselves in campus activities in an effort to promote social integration. Academic integration is provided in the classroom through a combination of efforts, including the use of co-requisite coursework, giving students the opportunity to earn college-level credit with supplemental support beyond the traditional class meeting. In addition to co-requisite courses in English, writing and math, students will have the benefit of working with a success coach. The success coach is a staff member whose objective is to build relationships with students and act as a facilitator between the professors and content for students. This strategy has proven quite effective over the last three years at WKCTC and their Accelerate You! (AY!) at WKCTC program.
The AY! model at WKCTC accelerates students’ past developmental coursework to college-level courses, with layers of support to promote student success. Students are placed in cohorts/learning communities, with accountability and strategic advising embedded in co-requisite courses. Success coaches are accessible in the classroom with faculty, and in tutoring outside normal class time. Coaches do most of their work outside the classroom with accountability strategies. They seek out students and have face-to-face conversations about what supports they need. The coaches help identify strategies to address struggles that students might be facing, and provide an additional layer of support to help students find their place within higher education (Dotson, Heflin, & Teague, 2017; Hlinka, Gericke, Akin, & Stephenson, 2018).
AU! at MSU is designed to provide insight into what helps students find success. Preset schedules for cohorts of students combining WKCTC and MSU classes in both fall and spring provide the foundation of courses for students in the AU! at MSU program. The schedule is designed to promote student success while advancing students toward a bachelor’s degree, and developing within students an understanding of the demands of higher education. The set courses of AU! at MSU were collaboratively chosen to fill general education and transfer needs, with minimal to no harm to the student. Academic supports are provided in key areas of reading, math and English, whether the student’s placement score is lacking or not, with the use of supplemental support time and success coaches to provide additional encouragement. Multiple faculty and staff members working with students, along with a WKCTC Director, faculty and staff located at MSU and MSU Center for Academic Success Director, create a foundation of “institutional guides” for students, building their confidence and self-efficacy to meet and exceed their educational goals. Successful completion of AU! at MSU will be measured by students completing a minimum of 24 credit hours in the first academic year, with a minimum “C” grade in English and math courses and a cumulative GPA of 2.0. In the second year, students will transition into full MSU students, with a reverse transfer in place for students to receive an associate degree from WKCTC when they complete required credit hours while working along their educational pathway toward a bachelor’s degree.
Opportunity for Success
As the meeting place for students and faculty, the higher education institution may seem like an extraneous land to students, with its own language, rituals and culture that are unfamiliar and different. Faculty are often seen by students as “natives” to this culture, and students can perceive themselves as “foreigners.” This disparity between students’ cultural resources and the institution’s culture can create misunderstanding and conflict for students. By recognizing existing organizational culture and student capital differences, we see a need to shift the onus of congruence from students, with a limited understanding of the educational culture into which they are entering, to institutions of higher education and practitioners within the field. Educational researchers are repositioning cultural “fit” efforts as the responsibility of postsecondary institutions and their practitioners, suggesting that colleges need to explore ways to affirm the multiple social and cultural capital of their students, allowing them to better acclimate to the culture of the institution with their own cultural resources intact (Bensimon, 2007; Bourdieu, 1986; Deil-Amen, 2011; McGrath & Spear, 1991; Tierney, 1999; Tinto, 2012).
Student access to a full university campus experience not previously available, especially for those who do not meet required placement scores, must provide consideration to, as well as support of, potential disarticulation of student capital with the culture of the higher educational institution. The authors anticipate AU! at MSU will break down impediments inherent to institutions of higher education, while maximizing the skill sets of different types of postsecondary institutions to benefit students and help them bridge the gap between their capital and institutional culture. The design of the AU! at MSU program places multiple faculty and staff members from both institutions in students’ college lives to hold students accountable and promote success while providing a guide and roadmap to attaining that success. With a mixed methodology research study in place for AU! at MSU, the authors hope to provide further support of the research pertaining to what works in providing access to opportunity for student success.
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