Austin Peay State University helps students get ahead and succeed with Purpose First Scholars – Clarksville Online
Clarksville, TN – When Will Howard arrived at Austin Peay State University (APSU) in August to begin his college career, he felt more at home on campus than expected.
That’s because he’s one of APSU’s Purpose First Scholars – a group of 55 incoming freshmen who receive exclusive academic and career readiness experiences.
This summer, Scholars participated in a special orientation that connected them early to campus, helped them assess their career plans, and allowed them to select an academic major that matches their plans after graduation. their degree.
The students — all freshmen who are either first-generation students or Pell Grant-eligible students — spent a few days in June living on campus, learning how to navigate college life, creating links with other scholars and to develop a career path for their next four years.
“We offered a special catered summer experience for our Purpose First Fellows, which included an extended orientation experience in addition to several Zoom meetings focused on career readiness throughout the summer,” said Dr. Loretta Griffy, Associate Vice President for Academic Strategic Initiatives and Foundation Engagement. , said. “The idea is to keep students connected to Austin Peay State University, engage them in activities to solidify their purpose in college, and begin the process to help them understand how their choice academic program can align with potential career options by exploring the job market. data, including skills and job prospects.
Griffy said another goal of the summer program was to reduce summer thaw, a phenomenon where recent high school graduates enter the summer eager to go to college, but that enthusiasm “disappears” because they lack the knowledge, resources and support to pursue post-secondary education. Many of these students do not arrive in the fall, even though they have been admitted to university. The summer melt affects first-generation students and disadvantaged students at higher rates than others. Purpose First Fellows have been hired by APSU staff throughout the summer.
“We’ve also worked to develop engaging summer programming to keep in touch with students to further focus on their higher education goal and reduce meltdown,” Griffy said.
The Purpose First Scholars program is funded by the $2.5 million Title III grant the U.S. Department of Education awarded to Austin Peay in 2020. Title III focuses specifically on creating programs to increase retention and graduation rates of at-risk students.
“The success of first-generation and underfunded students is extremely important to the University and to students,” said Dr. Kacie Hutson, Director of Coaching and Student Success Initiatives at APSU. “About 60% of APSU students identify as first-generation or Pell-eligible. If we can support their transition and success within the institution, our retention rates could skyrocket. Moreover, for students, the effects of obtaining a college diploma on their socio-economic mobility are exponential.
Hutson said the national four-year graduation rate for Pell-eligible students at four-year institutions is 14%, compared to 20% for non-Pell-eligible students. Moreover, only 20% of first-generation students graduate in six years, compared to 49% of continuing-generation students. This data has contributed to Austin Peay State University’s sense of urgency in developing intentional and structured initiatives to welcome and support Purpose First Scholars on their educational and career readiness journeys.
“The most financially vulnerable students are taking longer to graduate, racking up more debt, while leaving higher education without earning a post-secondary credential,” Hutson said. “We believe the Purpose First Scholars program provides these students with a clear path to earning a college degree at APSU and preparing them for post-college success.”
The Purpose First Scholars framework provides students with the support and connection they need to succeed. They have access to a peer leader, their first-year seminary instructor, and Purpose First Scholars Coordinator – Savannah Longo. Fellows also have several courses together, weekly career-focused activities, and special tutors.
“It was cool to have every class, to know at least someone there,” said Oveira Ortiz, a Purpose First fellow. “And coming to a university, Austin Peay, and having people I can go to for help is an amazing thing.”
Longo is now recruiting for the next cohort of scholars for the 2023-2024 academic year. For more information about the program, visit www.apsu.edu/academic-strategic-initiatives/title-III.php.