Denver Scholarship Foundation

In partnership with the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF), Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) implements the College Success Leadership Program which boosts persistence and graduation rates.

Nationally, low-income, first-generation students are nearly four times more likely – 26 to 7 percent – to leave higher education after the first year than students who had neither of these risk factors. In Colorado, these numbers are even lower, with 12% of all college students, and 10% of low-income students, at most four-year universities completing on time.

DSF has been working since 2007 to step into this gap, providing need-based scholarships to Denver Public Schools’ students to aid students in completing a college degree. However, we also recognize the need for important wraparound services within the college setting. Research indicates that in addition to financial need, many other factors contribute to students’ struggle to make progress toward degree completion in reasonable time, which often leads to students stopping out. These include: lack of academic supports, need of college going literacy, and low-student engagement.

DSF identified MSU as a priority for enhancing wraparound services for DSF Scholars. Serving roughly 20% of all DSF Scholars annually, MSU is a 4-year college with a unique population of urban commuter students, many who are low-income and first generation.

In working with MSU to develop a program, we looked to research studying challenges to, and best practices for, success of urban commuter students. Isolation and lack of student engagement are one of the seven primary markers of student attrition (Tinto, 1996), making commuter students more susceptible to stopping out than their peers attending residential campuses. Research suggests that success requires these students to be able “to recognize challenges and develop effective strategies” for support and engagement on campus (Clark, 2006). Strategies include using academic advising as a collaborative way to guide students toward completion (Clark, 2006) and for charting both progress and aspirations (Jacoby & Garland, 2004).

In 2014, we began the DSF Leadership Program at MSU. This pilot program serves students in their first 2 years at MSU, with the objective to improve persistence rates, GPAs and/or credit completion rates for DSF Scholars at MSU through intrusive advising and participation in the following four types of activities:

  • Leadership Development (conferences, trainings, retreats)
  • Community Building (cohort building and community service)
  • Mentoring (peer and/or faculty)
  • Academic Support (tutoring and academic success workshops)

The first 2 years of this young program have already demonstrated impressive success for our Scholars. By bringing together the financial supports of the scholarship and intensified wraparound services, for students who participated for 2 years:

  • 86% re-enrolled in college for a third-year
  • Had a higher GPA (2.94) than MSU students not in the program (2.2)
  • 71% of participants completed 48 or more credits, compared to 40% of non-participating MSU students.

Extending the program to all MSU Scholars, and providing services through participants’ senior year will enhance these promising results. The DSF Leadership program is very promising, providing students – particularly low-income, first generation students a ‘place’ of safety, relationships, identity and support, things that are not always available at an urban, commuter college.

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