Move-In 2016: Community for Excellence drives student access and success

Colorado State University has truly been a pioneer in its approach to access and success for first-generation, limited-income and historically underrepresented students.  From the university’s first TRIO program, starting in 1977, to the First Generation Award program, the university has led the way in creating meaningful access to education for all students. In 1984, CSU was the first university in the country to identify first-generation, low-income students as disadvantaged and provide scholarships designed to pay for tuition and student fees.

Community for Excellence

In the next step to not only help students access higher education through comprehensive preparation programs but also successfully achieve a degree, CSU has developed another first-of-its-kind program. The Community for Excellence helps students to succeed throughout their years of study and ultimately to graduation.

C4E, as it is known, is an innovative and collaborative initiative that supports students who are recipients of an access-oriented scholarship or award. The initiative is designed to increase success rates and decrease graduation gaps of first-generation, limited-income, historically underrepresented racial/ethnic groups and eligible undocumented students.

“C4E has enhanced what we’ve been doing to help students succeed once they’re at the university,” said Connie Jaime-Lujan, associate director for university access and success for the Access Center. “We’ve served under-represented and first-generation students through wonderful programs like TRIO for decades, but now we’ve also identified other partners and built collaborative efforts to be able to reach more students. We know that these students not only need financial assistance, but also support in preparation to attend the university. And then they need someone on campus who’s here to help them — and that can’t happen by happenstance, it can’t be an accident, it has to be intentional. It’s got to be orchestrated and seamless.”

The C4E award includes financial support augmented with a dedicated CSU staff member who provides early connection, mentorship, support and proactive outreach. Students are encouraged to fully engage in their collegiate experience and to become part of a community that supports their success.

“The student experience is a very important part of the Community for Excellence program,” said Taé Nosaka, director of Key Communities and Community for Excellence Scholar Programs at the Center for Advising and Student Achievement (CASA). “We want to make sure we have the kind of support in place for students to succeed so their experience isn’t left to chance. Every student who comes through one of our partnership programs is assigned a scholar contact. This is full-time professional staff member at CSU who meets with the students their entire time at the university all the way up to graduation as a resource, a guide, a mentor, a coach and a support person.”

Forging partnerships for student success

CSU’s C4E program has built relationships with more than 60 partners. The program includes institutional programs as well as relationships with programs outside of the university. A list of each award and program can be found here.

“Challenge Foundation is pleased to partner with Colorado State University through the C4E program,” said Holly Dichter, executive director of Challenge Foundation and C4E partner since 2010. “C4E has been an invaluable resource to our students attending CSU. As research shows, the challenges that first-generation low-income students face when stepping on to a college campus are significant. The C4E program helps these students navigate some of these challenges and puts support systems in place so they can be successful.”

Other partners are just as enthusiastic.

“At KIPP we strive to ensure that our students are persisting and graduating college. In the past couple of years this challenge has gotten much bigger as our high school graduating sizes have increased,” said Victor Zamora, director of KIPP and C4E partner since 2015. “By partnering with the C4E community, we now know that our students attending CSU are taken care of and that we have an ally in the getting our students to and through college.”

University-wide initiative

The Community for Excellence is a university-wide initiative with Enrollment and Access, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs and Diversity; co-leadership is provided by the Access Center and CASA. The collaboration involves developing a smooth transition between access programs and university retention programs, and coordinating across campus to provide uniform, consistent activities and requirements among designated scholarship or award programs.  CSU TRIO programs, Student Diversity Programs and Services, the Key Communities and Colorado Challenge programs all contribute to this cross-campus support effort.

“The impacts I think that we’ll see from this program are not only increased enrollment, but increased graduation rates as well,” said Jaime-Lujan. “And the impact beyond retention and graduation will continue our reputation as advocates for underrepresented students. The type of vision and commitment involved with the program has created a strong, cutting-edge program.”

Herman Shelton, far left, and Paul Thayer, center, with just some of the students served by the Access Center at CSU.

Access first, then success

In 1979, a visionary joined CSU who has been responsible for helping to nurture and grow the TRIO programs that exist at CSU today. Paul Thayer spent his first 19 years at the university focused on access and pre-collegiate programs, serving as director of the Center for Educational Access and Outreach. For the subsequent 19 years he worked on retention, graduation, and student success strategies as director of Undergraduate Student Retention, executive director of the Center for Advising and Student Achievement, and finally associate vice president for Student Success before his retirement this year.

“The amazing thing is that we’ve had TRIO programs since the 1970s,” said Thayer, who is currently a special advisor to the Provost for retention. “We’re serving students, families and communities in whatever ways those students and families can best be served. There have been thousands of students whose lives have literally been changed and often times their families have been changed by their participation as well. For CSU to have been the sponsor of these activities that have had such far reaching affects says something really wonderful about the university and its special place in Colorado communities.”

Access Center ‘family’

CSU is the only Colorado higher education institution that serves students via four types of TRIO programs: Educational Talent Search, Upward Bound and the Educational Opportunity Center, all housed in the Access Center, and the Academic Advancement Center. The ACC is a Student Support Services TRIO program and part of the university’s Division of Student Affairs.

“Most students who go through TRIO programs end up referring to it as their family,” said Herman Shelton, executive director of CSU’s Access Center. “From the time students are freshmen in high school, they will participate in academic activities on the campus of CSU multiple Saturdays during their academic year. Additionally, they invest six weeks every summer enrolled in classes and activities to support their academic preparation, socio-emotional development, and ability to self-advocate. They learn how to identify and use resources that are available to them. And along the way they are always reminded that their TRIO family is a much broader network there to support them.”

Outcome-focused programs

“TRIO programs are very outcome-focused,” said Shelton. “They have very clear objectives, tracking and measurement. So we know the proportion of students who graduate from them. It is really about whether students who would be far less likely to go to college are provided equitable access to educational supports and opportunities to foster success. The fact that our TRIO programs have existed here for so long is a testament to the fact that they are successful.”

“Essentially what we’ve done with C4E is identified the need to expand the services that the Academic Advancement Center offers to students who aren’t necessarily in that program,” said Shelton. “Through C4E, students are given wraparound services so that they are actively engaged in a community that cares about them and will facilitate that persistence to graduation.”

Most recently, CSU has added included Student Support Services programs at Colorado community colleges as programs as external C4E partners. When the transfer students come to the university through a partnership program, they are brought into the C4E program.

“I believe we are one of the first universities in the country to build a partnership program like the Community for Excellence,” said Jaime-Lujan. “We want to ensure that students are well prepared to enter the university through these many wonderful partnerships programs and then we want to see these students thrive during their time here all the way through to graduation. Access and success are the foundations of the C4E program.”