Multicultural Dorm Project Rewarded For Retention Results

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by Margaret Kamara

Five years ago, when Purdue
University’s administrators  sat down to brainstorm ways to improve
diversity and retain students, they came up a solution they never thought would
become an  award-winning retention
program.

In their program, “Multicultural
Learning Communities,” a diverse selection of students studying the same
discipline live in the same dorm as well as take the same classes. MCL
project enforce the importance of living and learning from a multiple
perspectives by requiring students in the courses to live and learn together.

Purdue, the University
of Central Michigan and West
Virginia UniversityOrlando.
received the Lee Noel and Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Award earlier this
month at the higher education consulting firm’s 2007 National Conference on
Student Recruitment, Marketing and Retention, in

“The winning programs…went above
and beyond in terms of generating identifiable and measurable institutional
outcomes, demonstrating originality in program development and using resources
in a creative manner,” said Tim Culver, vice president of the firm.

University of
Central Michigan’s program,
“Suspension Waiver Program,” gives students who had been suspended because of
low grades a second chance. The students first have to agree to get academic
assistance and sign a contract of commitment, that they must abide to.

West
Virginia University’s
program, “Adventure WV,
is a wilderness outing that serves as an 
alternative to the traditional orientation sessions. Prior to the start
of the school year, first-year students spend a week at a designated camping
ground and take part in outdoor activities such as hiking and rock climbing.

At night, sitting next to a
campfire, the group of students, faculty members and professional staff,
discuss the obstacles they face in completing the activities, which symbolizes
the experiences they will face as first time students, peer pressure, etc.

The learning community for students
majoring in the sciences is named “Bonding,” after the chemical bondings that
the students learn about in the classroom and the personal ones they create
outside of the classroom. There are four multicultural learning communities in
all and include the colleges of engineering, liberal arts and consumer and
family sciences.

In an environment in which minority
students feel welcome and a part of, they’re more likely to stay enrolled and
go on to graduate because they feel at home, said Andrew Koch, director of
student access, transition and success programs.

The program, which Koch says is a
“catalyst” of what the university aims to become, is the most racially diverse
program at the university, with minority students accounting for 45 percent of
participants. The university’s overall minority population is 13.1 percent.

The secret to the program’s high
minority participation: targeted 
recruitment. Though the university encourages all first-year students to
participate in the learning communities, specific recruitment efforts are made
to target minority students for the multicultural program.

The outreach has been successful,
Kock says, because “minority students are looking for an environment that feels
good and feels right, with a strong minority representation and these
communities provide that.” 

At the conclusion of the program an
annual assessment is done and students are encouraged to give feedback to
improve the program and share their overall thoughts on whether the program was
effective.

“I think I’m more understanding of
the different types of people and have more personal social skills after being
here,” said a student named Jasmine in one analysis. “Meeting so many different
people and the friendships I’ve made has really broadened my horizons…[in] just
one semester.”

The students were identified by
pseudonyms to protect their identity.

The first-to-second year retention rate for program participants is
90.57 percent compared to 84.17 percent for non-participants. Slightly more
than 87 percent of minority participants returned, compared to 78.9 percent for
minorities who did not participate in the program.

The program was funded by a grant
from the Lumina Foundation for Education, a private organization that seeks to
address the issues of access and education through grants, research and other
programs.

The Retention Excellence Awards
Program was established in 1989 by Noel Levitz to honor achievement in student
retention by colleges and universities in the Unites
States and Canada.

An application for the 2008
Retention Excellence Award is now available at: www.noelleviz.com 

- Margaret Kamara


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