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Helping students find belonging — and stay enrolled

U. of Texas at San Antonio

Welcome to The Intersection, a newsletter that connects the world of higher education to race and equity. If you’re new, make sure to sign up for future editions!

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A biweekly newsletter about race and higher education. By Naomi Harris.

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Guide to apprenticeships

Apprenticeships aren’t what they used to be. Long a pathway into the trades, apprenticeships now are preparing Americans for jobs in fields from healthcare to tech. Advocates see apprenticeships as a way to diversify these industries.

Learn more in Work Shift’s free, downloadable guide, Understanding New Collar Apprenticeships, that takes a look at this evolving landscape. Check it out and share it with anyone who is interested in the future of education and work.

Helping Latino students from the start

When it comes to adjusting to college life, students have to manage their own time, balance classes and meet lots of new people.

Oftentimes, students who come from marginalized backgrounds have larger obstacles to overcome during their first year of college — especially first-generation students and students of color. Ensuring that those students can navigate college and stay enrolled depends a lot on how comfortable they feel academically, particularly early on.

“We try to tell them: ‘A lot of students don’t do well in their first semester.’ It’s a huge transition — they’re getting used to the new way of working and learning and interacting with professors,” says Brittany Alvarez, vice president of college success at the Latino Education Advancement Foundation, an organization that aims to improve outcomes for Latinx students in East San Jose, Calif.

This year, the foundation provided scholarships to 280 first-generation, low-income students from the area along with 150 parents or guardians of the scholars. Of the students that the organization supports, 85% are enrolled in college full-time. The foundation has also given the students more than $15,000 in funds for housing, food, and transportation.

The foundation starts working with students during their senior year of high school, and stays in touch with them once they are accepted into college — checking to ensure they enroll in classes, offering the support of peer mentors, and coaching their parents on the financial aid process and career readiness.

Much of the support is centered on a student’s first two years of college, Alvarez said. A student who has a successful first semester is more likely to stay enrolled.

The peer-mentorship model gives the students a chance to ask questions right away when they have them — and connects them to someone who “truly cares about them,” said Estuardo Sanchez, a senior at California State University, East Bay, who is one of the program’s peer mentors.

For freshmen, the questions tend to be centered around financial aid and signing up for the right classes. But beyond that, the connection with a mentor helps the students feel like they belong on campus.

“They feel like they have someone like ‘Hey, I can talk to this person,’” Sanchez said.

‘The students feel like they belong’

From fall 2020 to fall 2021, nearly 300 faculty members at six universities — including the University of Toledo and the University of New Mexico — participated in the Student Experience Project, an effort to increase degree attainment by building more equitable learning environments.

Faculty members in the program reviewed syllabi and other policies that could exclude some students. For example, they stopped issuing penalties for submitting late assignments — a move that offers flexibility to students with caregiving responsibilities or late shifts at work. They also learned how to incorporate inclusive language, and watch out for stereotypes or bias in the classroom.

Faculty focused on students’ potential for growth, rather than getting stuck in what Laurel Hartley, a biology professor at University of Colorado — Denver and member of the project, calls a “fixed mindset,” where a student may feel they will never improve at a specific subject.

When it comes to a fixed mindset, a student might think they’re not good at a subject like math and will never be able to grasp the material. But applying a growth mindset allows space for students to learn and believe they can learn the subject.

“You can develop and grow and when you focus on that growth then you can achieve much higher outcomes,” she explained.

The project helped faculty members realize “it doesn’t really take much to make a difference” and help a student feel welcome in their classroom, said Lesley Berhan, the associate dean for diversity, inclusion and community engagement at the University of Toledo, in Ohio.

“Their eyes were opened a lot to understanding the students more and how to communicate with students. Then the students feel like they belong,” Berhan said.

Calling HBCU students

Open Campus is looking for HBCU students to join its inaugural class of paid fellows with the HBCU Student Journalism Network.

Know any HBCU students who’d be interested? Check out more about the fellowship and be sure to send it to your own network!

Pell Grants are a marker of an institution’s commitment to low-income students. Fairfield University has the lowest percentage of Pell recipients of any college in the country. Ron Lieber at the New York times digs into why.

From financial struggles TO lack of diversity in k-12 schools, and frequent stereotyping. Breaking down those barriers is key to ensuring Black students go on to enroll in college. Read the story by Lajja Mistry and Emma Folts, from our Pittsburgh partner newsroom, PublicSource.

President Joe Biden’s debt-cancellation effort has been under attack in the courts. . What does that mean for borrowers? Check out Molly Minta’s story from our local partner Mississippi Today.

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Thanks for reading!

I’d like to hear from you. Share your stories, tips or perspectives by sending me an email. Reach out to me at naomi@opencampusmedia.org.

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