The U.S. Department of Education has approved a $2 million Title III grant for Wilson College under the department’s Strengthening Institutions Program, which is aimed at helping postsecondary institutions expand their ability to serve low-income students and strengthen academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability.
The grant, which will be distributed over five years, will be used to improve enrollment, retention, persistence and graduation rates for Wilson College students through a set of goals, including strengthened academic programs and academic support services, updated technology and ongoing professional development for Wilson employees.
The grant — by far the largest federal grant awarded to Wilson in the college’s 145-year history — is consistent with Wilson’s goal of strengthening the educational experience and helping students maximize their academic potential, according to Wilson College President Barbara K. Mistick.
“We are so excited to receive this grant. It really comes at a wonderful time for us,” Mistick said. “We just welcomed our largest class in 40 years, we’re starting construction of the library renovation project and we are seeing great momentum from the Wilson Today plan that we instituted last year.”
The Wilson Today plan, approved by the Board of Trustees in January 2013, is a set of initiatives to ensure that the college remains a thriving institution well into the future. The five-part plan includes a tuition reduction and student debt buyback program, infrastructure improvements, coeducation and new academic programs.
This is the third time Wilson has applied for the highly competitive Title III grant. The difference this time around included changes under way to reconfigure technology at the college, construction of a learning commons as part of the Reimagining the John Stewart Memorial Library construction project and proposed programs to help support and retain underprepared students.
Wilson, like colleges in general, is seeing a growing percentage of students who are arriving academically underprepared. This can be the result of students coming from underperforming school systems or, in other cases, first-generation college students who lack the support systems that can prepare them to meet the expectations of college-level academics. At Wilson, 55 percent of undergraduate students are first generation, 46 percent are eligible for federal Pell grants for lower income families and approximately 96 percent of students receive some form of aid.
Wilson’s application for the Title III grant has five overall objectives:
- Increase enrollment through strengthening academic programs that will bolster student retention – the percentage of students who stay at a college from fall of their first year to the fall semester of their second year. These actions include creating a developmental reading and writing course; strengthening developmental mathematics courses; and creating an information literacy course that incorporates technology and critical thinking skills.
- Increase retention and graduation rates for underprepared students through revitalizing the first-year student experience, enacting best practices that support at-risk students, establishing a learning commons and academic support center in the Stewart library building and strengthening academic, career and personal advising for students, among other things.
- Strengthen academic technology infrastructure, leadership and applications of technology to instruction and academic support, including creating a chief information officer position and expanding academic technology assistance in the new learning commons.
- Build capacity for data-driven academic and institutional decision-making.
- Provide a professional development program for faculty, administrators, and staff.
Last year the department awarded $20.1 million through its Strengthening Institutions Program to just 39 colleges and universities nationwide. To be eligible for funds under SIP, “institutions must be serving a substantial number of students receiving need-based federal student aid and have low per-student expenditures,” according to the department.
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DATE: Sept. 9, 2014
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