According to national data, first-time-in-college students with a GED face significant hurdles: 50 percent will drop out before the end of their first semester.
Changes in Student Life and the revamping of the Pathways to Persistence program aim to give our GED students a boost and raise retention rates while also generating research so that, if successful, Pathways can be replicated at other institutions.
“I really believe in this program,” said SF’s Dr. Angela Long. “Almost every one of these students has faced rejection in high school, as adults. One woman was homeless and living with her kids in her car. One is a disabled student wants to become a lawyer. They all believe they can succeed.”
Thanks to the administration in Student Affairs and Student Life, Long’s Coordinator duties in Student Life have changed to include running the new Pathways to Persistence Scholars program, for which 40 first-time-in-college GED students will be selected. She will also be in charge of honors and recognitions, research and assessment for Student Life, and oversee the Office of Civic Engagement and Service. A new Associate Director position was posted last week for Student Life. The person filing that position will oversee Student Government and student organizations, and work closely with Director Dr. Dan Rodkin on other responsibilities.
Long’s original research was the basis for Santa Fe’s first venture into offering the Pathways program last year.
“It’s an opportunity to reach out and support students in a very unique way,” explained Long, who attended a special White House Summit on Hispanic student retention in late May (see photo and check out notes from the summit linked at the end of this article). “It could be the start of a change in education.”
Long received the names of 58 first-time-in-college students with GEDs. She approached all of the students offering them a spot in the Pathways Scholars program. There is space for 40 students and so far 34 have expressed interest in participating; all will be interviewed before being accepted. Participating students will be matched with a campus mentor and they’ll attend a special reception in their honor at the new Fine Arts Hall where Dr. Sasser will formally welcome them to Santa Fe.
Long will conduct a comparative analysis of those in the program with those who don’t participate. Her random group will be all the students whom she invited to join but who chose not to take her up on her offer. The group is “random” since no distinctions were made based on gender, age, race, etc.
Once the cohort is selected, Long’s Five Factors kick in, which is the basis for her research into what helps GED students succeed in college.
- FONDNESS implies a love for the campus, which Long will help generate by embracing the students via warm interactions, special events, and small gifts such as a Pathways padfolio, etc.
- The second factor, FRIENDSHIP, is based on building relationships on campus, both among cohort members and with their mentors.
- The third factor, FUN, involves creating an exciting environment in which the students feel important so that they look forward to coming to class. Long will teach a College Success class limited to the cohort. She plans to do a lot of relationship building during the class and introduce students to people who’ve overcome odds to succeed. It will focus on factors for success in both college and life.
- The FREEDOM TO FAIL factor emphasizes teaching resiliency so that if students bomb a test, they won’t stop coming to class. “We’re saying, in life we will all fail at some point, but that doesn’t mean we give up,” she explained. “We want to teach them to get back on their feet.”
- And lastly, the FUNCTIONAL factor – students will be encouraged to discover their leadership abilities by getting involved, serving on committees, etc.
Long is structuring the entire program so that all five factors are reinforced in multiple ways. She is going to assess the students both in the middle and at the end of the semester. If anyone drops out, they’ll be interviewed as to why. At the end of the school year, Long is planning to take a small group of Pathway Scholars to present their testimony in Washington, D.C., to White House officials.
“I’m telling students this is an opportunity for them to teach us,” she said. “They are passionate and motivated to help society and to teach us what helps them succeed.”
If successful, she hopes the SF model can be adopted by the Department of Education or the Gates Foundation, “and possibly change hundreds of thousands of lives,” Long said.
Read Long’s notes from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in this PDF.