Nazareth University is embarking on a journey to assist underprivileged, low-income and first-generation college students. The institution, one of 170 schools nationwide, recently received $2.2 million from the U.S. Department of Education to put its plans into action.
“When the RFP came out, I really felt a calling institutionally to try to do our best to put a competitive proposal together because it really aligns with our mission and values at Nazareth,” says Maureen Finney, provost and program director for this grant. “We really aim to try to provide equity and access and success for all, and we have a compelling conviction to be able to do that for all of our students. That was kind of the lens in which we undertook this work.”
The monies go toward Nazareth’s Revitalizing Educational Equity at Nazareth University program. REENU is part of the Title III Strengthening Institutions program, a highly competitive federal grant among higher education institutions, officials say.
Finney says Nazareth’s proposal included input from representatives from across campus, fostering a commitment to doing the work. The school plans to put a four-pronged approach into play to support the identified student populations.
It begins with an understanding that the university, when it accepts underrepresented minorities, and low-income and first-generation students, wants to see them at graduation, Finney says. In 2022, 15.3 percent of Nazareth students were underrepresented minorities, 26.6 percent were Pell-eligible, and 11.2 percent were first generation.
“Looking at the data, we saw that those subset of populations did not have equal success rates as students that were not in those categories, and that’s not OK. So, what do we look at to see what would make them more successful?”
Officials say the university will:
■ launch@NazU program, a six-week online summer course to support first-year student success in science and health professions (to avoid low grades on foundational science courses, which can hinder at-risk students)
■ increase access to supplemental instruction and tutoring in key gateway courses;
■ implement a predictive analytic model to identify students at risk upon entry and those at risk of not graduating; and
■ create an endowment for equal access to experiential learning.
Nazareth plans to invest in a tracking tool that follows a student’s learning journey. It will help the university measure in real time and provide interventions when needed.
“So, not waiting until midterms are out, not waiting till final exams are out. (It will be) much earlier than that to try to shore the tide in a different direction,” Finney says.
The predictive markers include attendance, late or missing assignments and a college preparatory course, among other measures.
“So, really moving the finish line closer to the starting line, and looking at things along the way, Finney says.
Having realistic goals, she believes, also helped Nazareth’s chances at getting the grant. The university set measurable increases of at least 1 percent to 2 percent over the five-year period of the award. Retention and graduation rates are among those measures.
“Realistically, starting or restarting at 1 percent next year will be great, another percent after that, even better,” Finney says. “The project director is going to be charged with ensuring that those metrics are looked at consistently.”
Nazareth’s REENU program also aims to increase its capacity to support the needs of students with disabilities and students seeking support and accommodations, officials say. Nazareth plans to hire a learning specialist and expand the space of its Student Accessibility Services testing center. The number of students seeking accommodations and support has increased substantially over the last six years, with the need for computer-based testing growing by 40 percent since 2019, the university says.
A Center for Professional Learning, Innovation, and Creativity is also part of REENU’s goals. The center aims to increase faculty expertise in best practices for inclusive teaching and proactive advising.
“Naz has been amazing at offering opportunities for growth and development,” Finney says. “We had a teaching, innovation learning lab where the faculty could participate, but it wasn’t resourced in the way it’s going to be resourced now with a dedicated faculty expert in what it means to provide inclusive learning at the onset of the class, throughout the class and at the end, including inclusive advisement.”
In addition, Nazareth hopes to increase its capacity for grant seeking and grants management especially with underserved students in mind.
The capacity-building element will be critical to success, Finney believes.
“I think institutions have been fine looking back, but we have to be present and look forward,” Finney says. “We have a commitment that when you’re accepted here, we want to see you at that graduation date on time, not a protracted period of time. So, what does that look like? The beauty about a grant like this, it’s an institutional commitment because the funding is over five years.
“But once the funding is over, you have to continue that level of resource,” she adds “So, it says we are committed to this for the long term. It’s really that capacity building element that I’m really excited about. Because I think this time next year, we’re even going to be in a better spot than we are today.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].