Provost's Newsletter – November 2018

Teaching & Learning

Across Campus

Taking notes from the Purdue Promise playbook

For almost a decade, Purdue Promise has helped low-income students — all from Indiana's 21st Century Scholars program — attain the advantages and rewards of a Purdue education.

Rooted in Purdue’s land-grant mission of accessibility and affordability, Purdue Promise reaches undergraduates who, while academically qualified to come to Purdue, had to overcome some challenging hurdles on their path to higher education. They were more likely to be the first in their families to attend college, raised by single parents, or report income that was far lower than the income of the average student who applies for financial aid, The family income of Purdue Promise participants is 75 percent lower than the average student who applies for financial aid in Indiana.

Purdue Promise has been transformational for participating students. Where once this group showed graduation rates lagging 10 percentage points behind the general student population, new data show the most recent Purdue Promise graduates with a four-year graduation rate nearly 2.5 percentage points higher than their peers. And 60 percent of Purdue Promise students have no dept at graduation — those who do have an average debt of $7,000. (Other Indiana undergraduates with debt at Purdue West Lafayette average more than $24,000.)

These positive results come from the program’s holistic approach to student success. Coaches with degrees in higher education, counseling, social work or student affairs work closely with our 1,200 Purdue Promise students throughout their four years at Purdue. These coaches help the students access resources and address issues that may affect their financial aid eligibility or overall success. Purdue Promise coaches know when students are coping with an illness or personal struggle, and they are able to offer support in situations that might otherwise derail a student’s college career.

"Our success coaches are often just out of college, master's preferred, but we give them extensive training, about 116 hours their first year," says Michelle Ashcraft, director of Purdue Promise. "They have degrees in higher education, student affairs, social work or counseling. This helps prepare them to deal not only with the academic side of their students' lives but also the range of complex issues the students bring with them. Some of these students have been homeless, abused, abandoned. Some are single parents, caretakers of siblings, or graduates of the foster care system."

Seeing the Purdue Promise success, the Boiler Success Team is exploring how it might use components of it to help other students, says Sheila Hurt, BST program director. This initiative brings together people from across campus to work on success projects that require a broad range of perspectives.

"We are focusing on the communication component of Purdue Promise," Hurt says. "We know that Purdue students have an overwhelming amount of information sent to them, and they don’t always recognize which messages are most important or understand how to respond. We can't fund coaches for everyone, nor would this approach be the right one for every student, but we can explore how we can do a better job providing personal, proactive communication using BoilerConnect, a system we already have in place."

Parking tickets are a simple example.

"An unpaid ticket can bar you from registering for classes, and in turn, keep you from getting those you need to graduate," Hurt says. "Students might ignore an email about a registration hold, but a message from someone they know explaining why it matters and what they can do about it could really make a difference."

A BST project team is spending the fall investigating where students get tripped up due to communication challenges and, following the Purdue Promise model, creating recommendations for a proactive communication plan. 

BST will recruit volunteers to test the plan. These could be academic advisors but they also could be faculty or staff who are faculty fellows, serve as advisors for student organizations, are mentors through the cultural centers, supervise student workers or leaders, or have any other direct connection or relationship with an individual student.  

Another program called Summer Start also is taking cues from Purdue Promise. Summer Start provides admission to Purdue to students with borderline applications contingent on their completing seven credit hours in introductory courses such as COM 114, EDPS 315, SOC 100, SCLA 101, PSY 120 or HIST 152 during the summer after their high school graduation. Summer Start students are more likely to be the first in their families to attend college or identify as underrepresented minorities.

There are two student success coaches dedicated to Summer Start, funded by the Summer Session office and assigned to Purdue Promise. They support students through their entire first year. This year's Summer Start cohort is 166 students, up from 148 the previous year.

Summer Start has finished its third year, and John Gipson, Purdue's director of summer session, says the program is promising.

All 166 of this year's group completed Summer Start and transitioned to the fall semester.

“Student success coaches were crucial while implementing programmatic enhancements that helped the 2018 cohort earn an average GPA of 3.49 during the Summer Start module compared to an average GPA of 3.10 for the 2017 cohort," Gibson said.

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