71.1 F
Clarksville
Friday, October 7, 2022
HomeEducationAustin Peay State University helps students get ahead, succeed with Purpose First...

Austin Peay State University helps students get ahead, succeed with Purpose First Scholars

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – When Will Howard arrived at Austin Peay State University (APSU) in August to begin his college career, he felt more comfortable on campus than he expected.

That’s because he is one of APSU’s Purpose First Scholars – a group of 55 incoming freshmen who receive exclusive academic and career readiness experiences.

This summer, the scholars participated in a special orientation that connected them to campus early, helped them evaluate their career plans, and allowed them to select an academic major that connects to their plans after they graduate.

“We were here for two days over the summer, and we stayed one night in Castle Heights (residence hall),” Howard said. “They showed us around campus, we got to meet President (Mike) Licari, and we got the information we would need when we started.”
 
The students – all first-time freshmen who are either first-generation college students or Pell grant eligible – spent a few days in June living on campus, learning how to navigate college life, creating connections with other scholars and developing a career pathway for their next four years.
 
“We offered a special catered summer experience for our Purpose First Scholars, which included an extended orientation experience in addition to multiple Zoom meetings focused on career readiness throughout the summer,” Dr. Loretta Griffy, associate vice president for academic strategic initiatives and foundation engagement, said. “The idea is to keep the students connected to Austin Peay State University, have them engage in activities to solidify their purpose in college, and start the process of helping them understand how their academic program choice can align with potential career options by exploring labor market data, including skills and job outlook.”
 
Griffy said another goal of the summer program was to decrease summer melt, a phenomenon where recent high school graduates enter summer eager for college but that eagerness “melts” away because they lack the knowledge, resources, and support to pursue post-secondary education. Many of those students don’t arrive in the fall, even though they’ve been admitted into college. Summer melt affects first-generation and under-resourced students at higher rates than others. The Purpose First Scholars were engaged by APSU staff all summer.
 
“We also worked to develop attractive summer programming to stay engaged with students to increase the focus on their purpose for higher education and decrease melt,” Griffy said.
 
The Purpose First Scholars program is funded by the $2.5 million Title III grant the U.S. Department of Education awarded Austin Peay in 2020. Title III specifically focuses on creating programming to increase retention and graduation rates for at-risk students.



 
“First-generation and under-resourced student success is extremely important for both the University and the students,” Dr. Kacie Hutson, director of coaching and student success initiatives at APSU, said. “Around 60% of students at APSU identify as first-generation or Pell-eligible. If we can support their transition and success at the institution, our retention rates could soar. Additionally, for the students, the effects of completing a college degree on their socio-economic mobility is exponential.”
 
Hutson said the national four-year degree completion rate for Pell-eligible students at four-year institutions is 14%, compared to 20% for non-Pell-eligible students. In addition, only 20% of first-generation students complete a degree within six years, compared to 49% of continuing-generation students. This data contributed to Austin Peay State University’s sense of urgency in developing intentional and structured initiatives to welcome and support Purpose First Scholars during their educational and career readiness journeys.
 
“The most financially vulnerable students take longer to complete a degree, accumulating more debt, while departing higher education without attaining a post-secondary credential,” Hutson said. “We think the Purpose First Scholars program is giving these students a clear pathway to complete a college degree at APSU and setting them up for success after college.”
 
The Purpose First Scholars framework provides students the support and connection they need to succeed. They have access to a peer leader, their freshman seminar instructor, and the coordinator for Purpose First Scholars – Savannah Longo. The scholars also have multiple classes together, weekly career-focused activities, and special tutors.
 
“It’s been cool to have each class, knowing at least somebody there,” Oveira Ortiz, a Purpose First Scholar, said. “And coming to a University, to Austin Peay, and having people I can go to for help is an amazing thing.”



 
Longo is now recruiting for the next cohort of scholars for the 2023-2024 academic year. For information on the program, visit  www.apsu.edu/academic-strategic-initiatives/title-III.php

RELATED ARTICLES

Latest Articles