In partnership with the Denver Scholarship Foundation (DSF), Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) implements the DSF Leadership Program which supports persistence and completion rates.
Nationally, low-income, first-generation students are nearly four times more likely to leave higher education after their first year of school 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.
Since 2006, DSF has been providing need-based scholarships to Denver Public Schools’ students to aid students in completing a college degree. However, we 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 dropping out. These include lack of academic supports, need of college going literacy, and low-student engagement.
DSF identified MSU Denver as a priority for enhancing wraparound services for DSF Scholars. Serving roughly 20% of all DSF Scholars annually, MSU Denver 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 Denver 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 Denver. The program provides DSF Scholars with educational and professional opportunities such as:
- Leadership Development (program advisory board, conferences, trainings, retreats)
- Community Building (cohort building and community service)
- Mentoring (peer and/or faculty)
- Academic Support (tutoring and academic success workshops)
The DSF Leadership Program utilizes the Social Change Model of Leadership Development, which frames leadership as a collaborative process designed to enhance the development of leadership qualities in all participants and promote a process that is inclusive and actively engages all who wish to contribute. The model’s two primary goals are to enhance student learning and development as well as facilitate positive social change. The DSF Leadership Program activities/events are Scholar led and connect with at least one of Social Change model values. The program specifically focuses on the following four values: commitment, common purpose, controversy with civility, and citizenship.