Recently, Western Illinois University was identified within the U.S. Department of Education report, “Fulfilling the Promise, Serving the Need,” as outperforming its peer institutions in enrolling and graduating Pell Grant recipients. Those students comprise at least 40 percent of the population at the schools featured in the report, with at least 50 percent of those students graduating within six years. At the time of reporting, WIU’s six-year graduation rate for Pell Grant recipients, who comprised 43 percent of the student population, was the same as that of all students at WIU (56 percent). Additionally, the report notes that two-thirds of Pell Grant recipients earn more than $25,000 within six years of enrolling at WIU.
Our University has long been known for serving underrepresented populations, and we are committed to ensuring our students’ success throughout their tenure at Western Illinois University. One of the many programs in place to assist in retention and persistence includes our First Year Experience (FYE) program, which began in 2004. This university-wide initiative helps incoming first year students make a successful transition to college from their previous educational or life experiences. It is our duty to make a difference in the lives of our students.
The FYE is a comprehensive program that aligns classroom activities and campus life to affect a greater impact on the learning and development of new students through emphasizing how to live well so that students can succeed academically, physically, emotionally, and socially/civically. The program also helps students build meaningful connections with a variety of individuals from both the Western and Macomb communities.
The Building Connections (BC) program at Western Illinois University also serves to assist new students acclimate to college life, and provides another resource to ensure our students’ success. New students are assigned a BC mentor, and mentors meet and communicate with their students to ensure they are doing well at Western. The program began in Fall 2011 as a pilot program with 400 randomly selected new freshmen living in the same residence hall. In Fall 2012, the program was expanded to include all new incoming students, and in Fall 2013, the Building Connections program became a component of the University 100 course, which is a graduation requirement. Students who meet with their Building Connections mentors are 90.6 percent likely to return for the spring semester.
The University 100 program is a one-credit hour general education course that meets once per week and focuses on how students can successfully transition to Western Illinois University. In this class, first year students learn about what it means to be a WIU student, what it takes to read/write in college, how to live “well” in all areas of life, how to participate in civic engagement and master time management, and much more. In addition to the University 100 instructor, students also have a peer mentor (upper level college student) who will help the first-year students succeed. All first-year students are required to take University 100 their first semesters at WIU.
Other initiatives we have implemented to ensure persistence, particularly among our underrepresented populations, include programming through the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center and the Casa Latina Cultural Center. The centers’ initiatives create opportunities for underrepresented students to participate in culturally enriching activities at WIU. These activities contribute to our recruitment efforts by providing academic enhancement opportunities, and social programs designed to aid in the adjustment of underrepresented students to WIU.
The programs we have implemented have resulted in improved retention and graduation rates throughout the years. I am proud of the strategies we have in place that provide essential resources and opportunities to our students, many of whom are first generation college students. We must continue this commitment to ensure future generations of students continue to achieve great things at WIU.