IHEP Details Minority Serving Institutions’ Best Practices

A report recently released by the Institute for Higher Education Policy highlights 30 Minority Serving Institutions as they present a faculty-driven, classroom-based road map of practices that foster positive academic outcomes among first generation college students. The strategies presented in ‘Supporting First-Generation College Students Through Classroom-Based Practices’ have a proven track record and are based on the MSI’s experiences in the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative, a $4.2 million program underway since 2009.

“Conversations around supporting first-generation students need to begin with the classroom, which is a perspective often overlooked,” said IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D. “Through the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative, we learned that faculty contributions and support are paramount to successful academically driven initiatives that target first-generation student achievement. These individuals are students’ primary point of contact in the classroom, and they can provide a powerful connection between in-class and out-of-class learning experiences for students new to college life.”

The IHEP brief contains insights from the Walmart Initiative on how programs can be redesigned, both in terms of instructional style and course content to focus on the key aspect of faculty engagement.

Other promising practices include: Embracing curricular changes as a way to improve student success (for example, Claflin University’s Learning in Communities for Success Project enrolled first-generation students in linked courses to enhance collaborative learning and saw completion rates skyrocket); amplifying institutional capacity to identify and track first generation students; and ensuring that these practices have both internal and external visibility.

“It’s exciting to see the creative ways that faculty members are working together, across disciplines and departments, to help first-generation students succeed in college,” said Michelle Gilliard, senior director of the Walmart Foundation. “We are also encouraged by the institutions that are integrating successful strategies from this grant into their general education and departmental requirements. It means the efforts that should be sustained, will be sustained.”

MSIs tend to have more open admissions policies than non-MSIs and therefore enroll a much larger percentage of first-generation students as well as drawing their student body mainly from underserved student populations. The 30 MSIs which took part in the Walmart Initiative received $100,000 each as a grant to help build upon programs that actively supported first-generation students. The 30 participating MSIs were selected through a competitive application process, and all benefited from the support of IHEP staff and consultants. Although the Walmart Initiative has completed, all institutions involved are continuing their campus work.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting access to higher education for all students. IHEP works to develop policy and practice oriented research to aid education leaders and policymakers as they tackle the nation’s most critical education challenges.