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UTSA receives $3.25 million US Department of Education grant to improve retention rates

December 16, 2015

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has received a five-year, $3.25 million Title V collaborative grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create the PIVOT program to increase student engagement, retention and graduation at UTSA and the Alamo Colleges.

The PIVOT for Academic Success Program aims to prepare, inspire, validate, orient and transition (PIVOT) students through a targeted array of academic and social student support services to achieve six goals:
  • Increase the number of students who graduate with an associate's degree from one of the Alamo Colleges;

  • Increase the number of Alamo Colleges graduates who transfer to UTSA as bachelor's degree-seeking students;

  • Increase the number of transfer students who graduate from UTSA with a bachelor's degree;

  • Increase the number of first-time, full-time Hispanic, low socioeconomic and first-generation students who graduate with a bachelor's degree;

  • Increase the number of students who pass the university's MAT 1073, Algebra for Scientists and Engineers, course with a grade of C or better so they are prepared for subsequent course work in science and engineering;

  • Further develop and support an institution-wide culture at UTSA that actively recognizes, encourages and supports its first-generation, low socioeconomic and Hispanic students.

"The PIVOT program will have a tremendous impact on how we recruit, engage and support our students," said John Frederick, UTSA provost and vice president for academic affairs. "Our investment in student success must be focused and efficient. The lessons we learn as we implement the PIVOT program over the next five years will undoubtedly serve as a model for our peer institutions with similar student populations."

UTSA Associate Professor of History Rhonda Gonzales, a first-generation college student, will serve as director of PIVOT. Gonzales was a member of the American Council on Education (ACE)'s Fellows Program class of 2014-15. She was based at New Jersey City University during her Fellowship last year.

As an ACE Fellow, Gonzales travelled to nearly 30 two- and four-year universities across the nation to study best practices supporting student success. Toward the end of her Fellowship, she coalesced her findings with existing research about UTSA's transfer student, current student and prospective student populations and worked with colleagues to develop a proposal to implement PIVOT at UTSA.

"This significant accomplishment is emblematic of how the ACE Fellows Program helps ensure that higher education's future leaders are ready to take on real-world challenges and put their research into action," said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "After more than 50 years of success, the program remains committed to preparing the next generation of senior leaders to serve America's colleges and universities."

The PIVOT program will build peer-to-peer communities of support at UTSA and the Alamo Colleges and bolster student success through four new initiatives:

The Alamo Runners program will support students who were admitted to UTSA but instead enrolled at one of the five two-year colleges in the Alamo Colleges. The program will employ a coordinator and peer mentor who will guide students to dually enroll in 12 credit hours at an Alamo College and three credit hours at UTSA, allowing the students to become familiar with a four-year university campus and its student resources. The goal is that Alamo Runners would graduate from one of the Alamo Colleges, transfer to UTSA and graduate from UTSA at higher rate and more quickly than in the past.

The Roadrunner Transition Experience (RTE) aims to provide UTSA transfer students with a unique transition experience. The RTE will employ a program manager and peer mentors to support transfer students. Additionally, UTSA will draw from existing student support services while creating new support resources, programs and events to increase transfer student retention and graduation rates.

First to Go and Graduate (F2G&G) advances first-generation students--which comprise nearly half of UTSA's freshman classes. It creates an innovative coaching program comprised of first-generation faculty and first-generation students. It will employ a program manager and peer mentors. Additionally, UTSA will establish a cross-campus First to Go and Graduate Council who will work to identify and recommend solutions for institutional practices that may be impeding student success.

Math Matters will allow UTSA to redesign MAT 1073, a pre-requisite algebra course for science and engineering majors. Using the National Center for Academic Transformation emporium model, which encourages active math in the classroom setting, UTSA aims to improve the pass rate of the course, thereby increasing the retention of science and engineering majors. Alamo Runners will be eligible to take the course while dually enrolled at the Alamo Colleges and UTSA.

"This collaboration with UTSA will add impetus to our ongoing efforts to improve student success and completion at the Alamo Colleges by exceeding our current record of more than 9,700 degrees and certificates awarded," said Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie. "It is particularly significant because UTSA is one of the major institutions at which our students pursue bachelor or higher degrees and increasing the number of those who do so successfully will have a positive impact on both of our institutions as well as the larger community."

Gonzales will work with Raquel Marquez, sociology professor and associate dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts; Patricia Sanchez, associate professor of bicultural-bilingual studies; Margaret Floyd, Lisa Johns and Cynthia McCowen of the UTSA Tomás Rivera Center; Sandy Norman, associate professor and chair of the UTSA Department of Mathematics; Blanca Balle-Muñiz at the Alamo Colleges and many additional faculty and staff members and student mentors to develop and implement PIVOT. As word has spread, UTSA has received numerous inquiries from community partners who are interested in supporting the program.

"There are so many talented people right here in Texas who want to pursue the dream of attaining a four-year degree and, for various reasons, are derailed from achieving that goal," said Gonzales. "PIVOT will help us reach those students who are already on our San Antonio campuses and provide them with the support they need to earn their bachelor's degrees at UTSA."

Ultimately, Gonzales envisions that PIVOT will become a sustainable program to support generations of Roadrunners well into the future.

UTSA, a designated Hispanic-serving Institution (HSI), draws 98 percent of its students from Texas, with the majority coming from Bexar County, Harris County and the Rio Grande Valley region. More than half of UTSA students are Hispanic, and nearly half are first-generation college students.

The Alamo Colleges predominantly serves students in Bexar and surrounding counties. Four of its five colleges are designated Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). Among those, St. Phillips College is the only college in the nation to hold both the HSI and HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) designation.

University of Texas at San Antonio

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