When it comes to earning a college degree, students of a lower socioeconomic status and those who are the first in their families to pursue four-year degrees often face the highest hurdles.
At Keuka College, those hurdles are about to be significantly lowered with the help of a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
The funds, awarded through the department’s Title III Strengthening Institutions Program, will enable the College to create a support network to promote higher rates of retention and on-time graduation among first-generation and lower-income students.
“The College will use this grant to ease the additional burdens placed on many of our students, and assist in their journey towards graduation,” said College President Amy Storey.
The five-year grant totals $1,974,266, which will cover 90% of the program (no other non-governmental dollars will be used). The grant went into effect on Oct. 1 and will enable the College to establish extensive initiatives aimed at improving academic engagement and performance among students most at risk of not completing their education.
“We have a large percentage – nearly half of our students – who are Pell-eligible,” said Project Director Dr. Carrie Roberts, referencing Pell Grants, which are available to students from households earning less than $50,000 a year but overwhelmingly go to students from families earning less than $20,000 a year. “So, this program is going to help a lot of students.”
Called “Barrier Reduction to Accelerate Student Success” (or BRASS), the program will focus on two key components: First-year support for low-income, first-generation students and revised pathways to graduation for every major the College offers.
“We know from experience that first-year students are the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Roberts, the College’s assistant vice president for strategic initiatives.
In fact, challenges can begin even before a student sets foot on campus.
If they’re the first in their families to pursue a college degree, they might not have resources at home to help them navigate the application process.
“Even after they’ve been accepted, there’s additional paperwork and processes that they need to be able to navigate," said Dr. Roberts
To overcome those challenges, the BRASS program encompasses non-academic departments like New Student Orientation, Admissions, and Financial Aid to assist students from the very beginning of their relationship with the College.
That assistance only becomes more robust once classes begin.
Hands-on advisers will map out a guided pathway for each student so that they’ll know what classes they need to take and when they need to take them. And supplemental instruction will be threaded into select courses that tend to be stumbling blocks in order to help students succeed.
To ensure the success of this program, the College will hire a full-time Title III grant director, as well as a data retention analyst, peer mentors, and supplemental instruction support.
“Fostering highly engaged students and providing customized learning opportunities is what we do best,” said President Storey. “The BRASS program promises to do both in ways that are creative, effective, and, most importantly, student-centered.”