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Office of the President

Message from President Nancy Carriuolo

Rhode Island College is a key access point to higher education for the Southern New England community, known not only for its rigorous curricula but also for its student-centered environment and affordable tuition. Over the years, our student population has grown increasingly diverse. A decade ago, one in 10 RIC undergraduates identified as a minority. Today, that ratio is one in four.

In keeping with our mission, RIC works diligently to provide support systems that allow all students to achieve their higher education goals. A national concern among the education community has been the lower-than-average retention and graduation rates for Hispanic students. In contrast, RIC's Hispanic students have performed better than the national average in recent years. That record of achievement is one reason RIC was chosen to partner with Providence Public Schools and the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet to create a pilot program that builds upon our successful work with Latino students.

Below is an opinion piece I coauthored with my colleague and friend, Providence Public School Superintendent Susan Lusi.

Helping Latinos thrive in higher education

By Rhode Island College President Nancy Carriuolo and Superintendent of Providence Public Schools Susan F. Lusi

Providence Public Schools and Rhode Island College, in collaboration with the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet, are working together to help members of Rhode Island’s fastest growing minority population succeed in higher education.

In 2013, Lumina Foundation selected Providence as one of the nation’s first 20 cities to join its Community Partnerships for Attainment, with the goal of increasing the number of local residents with post-high school degrees or high-quality certificates. The Providence partnership, led by the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, chose to identify and fund one model program it could pilot to improve college retention rates for the city’s Latino students.

The retention rate for minority students in four-year colleges is a national issue. While 49 percent of white students graduate from a four-year college within six years of enrolling, only 44 percent of Latino students graduate within this same time frame, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Among the reasons listed are basic financial concerns and unfamiliarity with the higher education system — a particularly relevant issue for those students who represent the first generation in their family to attend college.

The Providence program is built upon Rhode Island College’s award-winning Learning for Life peer support program, a public/private partnership whose network includes College Visions, the College Crusade and Goodwill Industries of Rhode Island. Learning for Life pairs student scholars with trained peer navigators who point them to appropriate academic, social service and financial supports available not just at Rhode Island College but within the community at large.

The program identifies gaps and collaborative opportunities in the service network and brings stakeholders together to generate needed resources for students. Learning for Life also actively works to help students build necessary financial foundations and align their academic plans with future career goals. The Lumina grant has helped Rhode Island College and the Providence Public School District, with assistance from Campus Compact, to launch the Latino student success pilot, a new Learning for Life cohort of approximately one dozen RIC Latino freshmen who are recent graduates of Providence public schools.

Every student enrolled in the Latino student success pilot is working with Learning for Life to create a “scholar plan” with four domains: academic, social, financial and career. Each freshman scholar has an assigned peer navigator who identifies needs and makes referrals before a crisis can occur. Our active advisory team, made up of community leaders, also engages the group on a regular basis, providing networking and mentoring opportunities. The cumulative effect of these supports is the creation of a strong community safety net for each of the enrollees.

One aspect of the pilot that sets it apart from our broader Learning for Life program is the inclusion of family events. Because many of our pilot participants are first-generation college students, their parents may not be familiar with both the academic demands and options available to their children. That is why we designed the Latino student success pilot to incorporate family-based functions, such as family welcome dinners, to allow earlier generations to feel a personal connection to the college campus.

Another unique component to this cohort of Latino students is the inclusion of bilingual support services in mathematics. While all college students must meet their mathematics requirement at some time during their academic tenure, the pilot program participants must take math in their first year. Research has shown that meeting the math requirement early in a student’s college career is a strong predictor for college retention and graduation.

We are happy to report a first- to second-semester college retention rate of 95.6 percent for our pilot participants, compared with 91.4 percent for the general RIC population. We are also delighted to report that all members of the cohort have met their math competency requirement for college.

This Lumina-funded pilot program was designed as a scale-able model. As the initial cohort continues to make academic progress, the Providence Public School District and Rhode Island College hope to expand the program over time, ultimately building a pipeline that helps propel the upcoming generation of Providence’s Latino community from high school graduation to college graduation.

This opinion piece was originally published in The Providence Journal on Wednesday, May 16, 2015.

Page last updated: May 22, 2015