Multicultural Dorm Project Rewarded For Retention Results - Higher Education

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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: 

- Margaret Kamara

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