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Inclusivity in Practice: Engaging an Institution's Hispanic-Serving Mission to Support Student Success
In 2005, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) called on higher education to strive for "inclusive excellence" by linking diversity with quality and reformulating pedagogy to focus in part on diversity-related student learning outcomes. In their introduction to a series of papers commissioned for AAC&U's Making Excellence Inclusive initiative, Alma Clayton-Pedersen and Caryn McTighe Musil argue that such "inclusive excellence" consists of four operational elements: (1) "a focus on student intellectual and social development," (2) "purposeful development and utilization of organizational resources to enhance student learning," (3) "attention to the cultural differences learners bring to the educational experience and that enhance the enterprise," and (4) "a welcoming community that engages all of its diversity in the service of student and organizational learning" (2005, vi).
With emphasis on the second and third of these elements, we suggest in this article that faculty course design initiatives and student support services are two effective mechanisms for engaging inclusive excellence and promoting equity, quality, and excellence. Among the many university-wide efforts related to inclusivity that we have instituted at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) are our faculty Communities of Practice (CoPs) and writing center support mechanisms, described below. Much of our work in this area has been informed by the Growing Knowledge about What Works for Latino Student Success project coordinated by AAC&U and Excelencia in Education.
The Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) at TAMUCC provides resources supporting a vision of educational excellence that includes close attention to inclusion. TAMUCC's strategic plan states that the university "will attract, retain, and graduate a diverse and highly qualified student body consistent with the university's mission as a Hispanic-Serving Institution" (Texas A&M Corpus Christi 2010, 7). Our executive leadership encourages the university community to execute this mission through collaboration between academic units and other relevant stakeholders and through engagement with the university's Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) status as a means of promoting learning among all students.
Course content and classroom pedagogy have significant implications for helping students learn material and develop the skills they need to achieve their goals. Diverse learning environments have educational benefits for all, but educators must engage diversity in these environments in intentional ways and with conscious attention to inclusivity (Milem, Chang, and Antonio 2005). To achieve such intentionality, many instructors at TAMUCC implement strategies shown to positively affect students who have been historically underserved by higher education, including Latino, American Indian, and African American students, and many faculty map their course-level student learning outcomes to larger learning goals for underserved populations. Past strategies have included featuring Texan or Mexican-American authors in literature courses or using local data sets in courses that address demographics. Thinking seriously about the relationship between underserved student success and specific student learning outcomes not only improves student learning, but also adds meaning and value to the university's mission.
The CFE regularly spearheads course redesign Communities of Practice (CoP) under the theme "Inclusive Excellence in South Texas." These CoPs offer a platform for groups of self-selected, multidisciplinary faculty to creatively embrace our unique location in South Texas in their course redesign. Many instructors have found that they can leverage student learning by encouraging students to develop a more nuanced awareness of the community and region in which they live. Each faculty participant in the CoP partially redesigns one course under the CoP theme and presents his or her work to the university at our biyearly institution-wide "Islander Forum," an all-day teaching and learning event open to faculty and staff. With the support of a modest stipend, CoP faculty take into consideration students' backgrounds, TAMUCC's geographic location, or strategies for engaging underrepresented populations while completing a concrete set of deliverables, including a partial course redesign with a valid assessment strategy. The CFE has found that these course redesign projects prompt helpful cross-disciplinary conversations and provide concrete tools that inspire participants to create positive changes in the classroom. For example, instructors in a geology learning community redesigned a course to include collaborative assignments that encouraged students to situate issues relevant to South Texas within a global framework.
Writing Center Support
Over the past three years, the Center for Academic Student Achievement (CASA) Writing Center has become TAMUCC's premier program for supporting all writers, with a targeted focus on first-time incoming freshmen, underrepresented populations, and alternatively admitted students (who are subject to specific conditions established by the University Admissions Committee). Among first-time incoming students who enrolled at TAMUCC between fall 2011 and spring 2014, those who used writing center services demonstrated year-to-year retention rates that were 8.25 percentage points higher (67.91 percent) than those of students from comparison groups who did not use writing center services (59.66 percent). The Writing Center Director, Noelle Ballmer, states that the center's objective is to foster a culture and community of writers and to equip students for academic success by orienting them to academic discourse.
In fall 2010, the CASA Writing Center began offering a series of writing workshops on topics ranging from basic writing to documentation styles in an effort to help close learning gaps in the transition from high school to the university. Since then, the center has expanded its catalogue to include over thirty-five types of writing workshops that are relevant across disciplines, majors, and student classifications.The center also began offering synchronous online writing consultations for distance students, students unable to travel to campus due to job or family commitments, and students whose learning styles are best suited to an online environment. The online writing support initiative has conducted 779 sessions since fall 2011. Through face-to-face and online consultations as well as writing workshops, the center has served 6,520 students over the past three years.
The Writing Center has proven its commitment to assisting alternatively admitted students and underrepresented populations. Ballmer indicated that year-to-year retention rates are 65 percent for students who use writing center services, compared to 58 percent for those who do not use these services. Data indicate that alternatively admitted students who use writing center services are more successful than their peers who do not use these services (see figure 1). For the academic years 2011–12 and 2012–13, 81.07 percent of alternatively admitted students using the Writing Center passed their college-level courses with grades of A, B, or C; in comparison, 62.43 percent of alternatively admitted students who did not use writing center services passed their courses with grades of A, B, or C (a difference of 18.64 percentage points). Further, data from these years indicate that alternatively admitted students who use the Writing Center also show higher end-of-term grade point averages than those who do not use the center. In their college-level courses, these students earn grades one-half a letter higher than students from the same cohort who do not use the center.
The CASA Writing Center improves student learning and success through several culturally responsive, student-centered practices:
- Informed, flexible, and well-trained staff provide supplemental support to students who struggle with writing, many of whom are learning English as a second written language or have developmental writing needs.
- The center offers writing workshops "on demand" to faculty (including many CoP participants) who want to target specific concerns and enable students to succeed in their courses.
- Online support is available for students whose work, geographical location, or family responsibilities might otherwise prevent them from participating.
- The center facilitates transfer of knowledge between various writing contexts—from high school to college and from undergraduate to graduate studies.
In sum, the Writing Center permits writers to make mistakes in nonpunitive environments where they can take risks and receive feedback from caring faculty and writing support staff.
TAMUCC engages inclusive excellence through both faculty development and student success initiatives. The Writing Center data suggest that persistence, retention, and graduation are connected to the quality of student learning. Thus, the CFE has committed to embracing the connections between these issues when organizing course redesign initiatives, working in ongoing conversation with the Writing Center to evaluate successes and disappointments and to exchange ideas for improvement and potential collaboration. At TAMUCC, we have learned that student success is best served by engaging broad strategic goals through a range of synchronized efforts.
Growing Knowledge about What Works for Latino Student Success
Growing Knowledge about What Works for Latino Student Success is a collaborative initiative between the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and Excelencia in Education that supports evidence-driven, campus-based change strategies for improving Latino student success and engagement through high-impact practices. Funded by TG Philanthropy, the program works with faculty and staff members from five Hispanic-Serving Institutions selected from the Excelencia in Action Network and AAC&U's membership to attend AAC&U's 2013 Institute on General Education and Assessment.
At the institute, participants examined institutional student success data, reviewed current research on the relationship between student engagement in high-impact practices and underserved students' self-reported learning gains, and created campus action plans for implementing high-impact practices that best fit their respective institutional cultures and contexts. Over the past year, teams have received one-on-one feedback from both AAC&U and Excelencia staff on their action plans and implementation processes. They also convened in spring 2014 at the AAC&U Diversity, Learning, and Student Success Network Conference in Chicago, Illinois, to share their accomplishments, and to brainstorm strategies for overcoming challenges to project implementation with fellow campuses and with representatives from AAC&U, Excelencia, and TG leadership.
The work of faculty and staff at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi described in this issue of Diversity & Democracy reflects one of the campus-based change strategies that are being implemented to support Latino student learning and success at institutions participating in the Growing Knowledge project. For more examples from the project, readers are invited to visit www.aacu.org/assessinghips/ and download the News from the Initiatives publication, which features a broad range of campus plans in addition to the TAMUCC example featured above. Campuses' methodologies may be different, but their motivations are similar: Growing Knowledge team leaders and members represent an emerging group of educators striving to improve the student learning experience for a growing population of Latino students across the nation. Growing Knowledge project staff hope these journeys provide valuable insights to practitioners at other institutions.
The project staff extend Muchísimas Gracias! to Jacob Fraire, vice president of student and institutional success at TG, and Kristin Boyer, director of philanthropy at TG, for their continued support and commitment to building capacity and advancing knowledge to improve underserved student success.
AAC&U and Excelencia in Education Growing Knowledge Project Staff
Clayton-Pedersen, Alma, and Caryn McTighe Musil. 2005. "Introduction to the Series." In Toward a Model of Inclusive Excellence and Change in Postsecondary Institutions, edited by Damon A. Williams, Joseph B. Berger, and Shederick A. McClendon. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Milem, Jeffrey, Mitchell Chang, and Anthony Antonio. 2005. Making Diversity Work on Campus: A Research-Based Perspective. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. 2010. 2010–2015 Strategic Plan. Corpus Christi, TX: Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.
Gerardo Moreno is the assistant vice president for student success at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi; Bradley Shope is the director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.