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Austin Peay State University expanding boundaries of student success with $2.5 million federal grant

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – In 2020, Austin Peay State University (APSU) received a $2.5 million federal grant to help more students succeed on campus, and over the last 24 months, the University has used that money to develop a set of innovative programs unlike any in the state.

“There’s not another institution in Tennessee doing this kind of work in supporting student success by leveraging labor market economic modeling data,” Dr. Kacie Hutson, director of coaching and student success initiatives at APSU, said. 

Shortly after the U.S. Department of Education awarded Austin Peay State University the five-year Title III Strengthening Institutions Program grant, APSU set up a new coaching and student success initiatives office in the Browning Building to provide extra help to a specific group of APSU students and to share relevant labor market data with faculty and staff engaged in curriculum development.
“The purpose of the grant is to increase retention and graduation rates with specific attention to closing achievement gaps for at-risk students,” Dr. Loretta Griffy, associate vice president for academic strategic initiatives and foundation engagement, said. “We’re defining at-risk as first-generation college students and students from under-resourced families.”

Purpose First Scholars

In 2018, shortly before Griffy wrote the Title III grant proposal, 48 percent of Austin Peay State University students were eligible for Pell grants and 29 percent were first-generation college students. The Title III Coaching and Student Success Initiatives Office now oversees programs specifically designed for these individuals, such as APSU’s Purpose First Scholars Program.

“We have 55 students who are in the program. They’re first-time freshmen who are first-generation college students or from low-resource backgrounds,” Hutson said. “We’re helping these students connect their majors to their careers early on, even as early as recruiting them. If we can get them aligned in the right major and career path early on, the idea is they are more likely to find their purpose, be retained, and complete a degree.”

The Purpose First Scholars live together in the same residence halls, take several classes together and even have specialized tutors to help them along the way.

“They’re doing all kinds of things together, and the faculty teaching them have undergone specialized training,” Griffy said. “And this year, we will develop a second semester of the freshman seminar in the spring focused on NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) competencies and career readiness skills aligned with students’ chosen degree programs.”

College Possible Success Coaches

In 2019, Austin Peay State University partnered with the national nonprofit College Possible to put four success coaches – also known as near-peer mentors – on campus to guide Pell-eligible and first-generation college students through transitioning to their academic careers.

These coaches, all recent APSU graduates, were embedded on campus, living in residence halls and coaching freshmen on everything from how to register for classes to how to relax after a stressful exam.

“We’ve had College Possible coaches,” Griffy said. “We were able to scale those with the grant funds. We were able to add two coaches. Now, every incoming first-time, first-generation, Pell-eligible student will have a coach to help them navigate the sometimes-complicated higher education environment.”

Economic Modeling and Student Success

The grant also allowed the new Title III office to acquire economic modeling software to provide better information to these specific students on choosing a major and a career pathway. The software includes a career coaching tool that all students have access to on APSU’s internal website, OneStop.

This tool assesses a student’s interests and then connects them directly to Austin Peay State University’s degree programs that fit their careers of interest. Career Coach also connects to a sample four-year degree plan at APSU and provides labor market data for that career field.

“Right now, students can go to OneStop, and they can click on their Career Coach and explore academic programs or career paths, as well as complete a career assessment,” Hutson said. “They can take the assessment to identify careers that fit their interests and majors that lead to those career pathways.”

Other economic modeling tools are focused on alumni outcomes and career analysis to allow the University to see where APSU alumni work after graduation and the projected demand for careers. This information helps faculty and department chairs to align academic programs to current labor market needs. The economic modeling data also helps academic programs translate learning outcomes to employment-relevant statements that students can include on their resumes and professional profiles

“With these tools, we can collaborate with academic departments to support their missions while helping students select and complete a higher education credential aligned with students’ career aspirations,” Griffy said. “At the end of this federally-funded project, we hope to review, evaluate and scale initiatives with the greatest impact on student success into the normal operations of the University.”

For information on the Title III grant, visit www.apsu.edu/academic-strategic-initiatives/title-III.php.


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