Kentucky State University is well under way with a $100,000 grant to help first-generation college students succeed in school.
KSU is one 18 schools sharing a $3 million grant from the Walmart Foundation awarded in February through the Alliance for Equity in Higher Education.
Recipients are halfway through a two-year search for ways to keep low-income, minority and first-generation college students in school until graduation day.
Titilayo Ufomata, associate provost at KSU, says the goal is to share the strategies publicly by the end of 2012.
“It’s a good project because it’s collaborative, and it has a clear goal as to what it is aiming for,” she told The State Journal this week.
KSU is using the grant to form “faculty learning communities” of 12 to 15 members each to study the roadblocks for at-risk college students.
More than 60 faculty members meet twice a month to discuss the latest research and best practices for remedial education, testing, classroom innovations and science, technology, engineering and math – STEM, as educators commonly call it.
Ufomata hopes to expand the effort next year.
“Faculty learning communities are very important because in the past, all the attention has been on students in the classroom,” she said.
“But we also need to pay attention to the people who teach to help them to do that better.”
The money is also funding travel to meetings, other project campuses and conferences for administrators overseeing the grant.
Participating schools will share details about their accomplishments in a published best practices report. KSU also serves as a mentor to North Carolina Central University, a historically black university in Durham, N.C.
Helping first-generation students navigate the academic, financial and social aspects of college life is key, Ufomata says.
Young adults whose parents never attended college don’t always know what to expect when they arrive on campus, or they may lack support at home for their efforts.
“They are more or less starting from scratch,” Ufomata said.
“We know that a very nurturing environment is very important to this cohort of students, and the sense that the university cares is key.”
Ufomata says she doesn’t have specific data on graduation rates for first-generation college students, and it’s too early to tell if the grant is having an effect yet.
Latest reports by the federal government show KSU’s six-year graduation rate at 20 percent for men and 27 percent for women. African Americans earn degrees at a rate of 26 percent, and white students come in at 23 percent.
The Alliance for Equity in Higher Education is made up of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, which serves historically black colleges and universities.
The Alliance was established in 1999 and currently represents more than 600 minority-serving institutions.
“Supporting education initiatives is a priority for Walmart because we see it as an investment in the next generation. Students today are the leaders of tomorrow,” Margaret McKenna, president of the Walmart Foundation, said in a statement.
“Supporting the Alliance and its member institutions will help ensure first-generation college students receive the vital support and guidance they need to graduate.”