ANNAPOLIS -Higher education institutions throughout the state are in the early stages of helping minority, low-income, and male students boost their retention and graduation rates in an effort to get them caught up with the rest of the students on campus.
In late 2007, as part of the “Closing the Achievement Gap Initiative,” 11 institutions under the University System of Maryland were charged with analyzing and reporting back achievement gaps within their student populations.
Maryland’s achievement gaps reflect nationwide trends of unequal academic performance among student groups based on race, ethnicity, gender and income.
Now able to target clearly identified gaps, each campus is testing out both improved programs and new solutions.
According to a report summarizing the schools’ findings, some strategies for combating the gaps include early warning systems, course redesign, “learning community” group housing programs, tutoring and group supplemental instruction sessions, and an increase in scholarships and financial aid.
At a recent meeting, the system’s Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Irwin Goldstein updated the Education Policy Committee of the Maryland Board of Regents.
“It’s no longer anecdotal … there’s going to be actual data that’s going to show what happens to the achievement gap,” said Goldstein, describing regular reports due from each school.
While each institution is responsible for general goals, they are creating unique solutions to specifically address their particular gaps.
“I think it’s a terrific initiative because we’re not trying to do one size fits all,” said the committee’s Chair Patricia Florestano.
Salisbury University is targeting three separate gaps. When comparing six-year graduation rates from the school’s initial assessment, its low-income Pell Grant recipients and the overall student body were separated by 15 percentage points, its African American students and the overall student body were separated by 12 percentage points, and its Hispanic students and the overall student body were separated by 5 percentage points.
These gaps, however, have since decreased after a year of the school’s new programs.
One strategy implemented by the university has been to offer supplemental instruction for more courses with high-failure rates, many of which are in the math and science fields. The extra sessions are taught by teaching assistants who have successfully completed the class, and the students who consistently attended them were more likely to get As, Bs, and Cs in the courses.
Samantha Rohlander, an elementary education major and math minor who graduated last spring, appreciated the supplemental instruction sessions that accompanied a calculus class three times a week in her last semester. She estimated about a fourth of her classmates attended and would work together on problems with the teaching assistant.
“You’re able to go to someone who was in the same class with you that day,” said Rohlander, who got an A in the class.
Among its campus-wide efforts, Bowie State University has developed plans to strengthen tracking of first- and second-year students and improve graduate and professional career preparation for upper-level students.
“It’s most advantageous when students can actually see their path to success,” said Stacey Franklin Jones, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Frostburg State University has focused its efforts on equalizing the male and female six-year graduation rates, separated as of fall 2009 by a 13 percentage point gap favoring female students.
To combat this gap the university has expanded its Learning Communities, designed in part to allow first-year students to explore a potential major or delve more deeply into an already selected major, to all freshman.
The university has also implemented a new system called MAP-Works that warns teachers early on if students are struggling in a particular area.
“We’re hoping that will create more successful interventions,” Frostburg Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Stephen Simpson said.