Dominican University's focus on student success recognized by U.S. News & World Report
Dominican University was pleased to learn earlier this month that U. S. News & World Report again ranked the university No. 10 out of nearly 160 schools in the Midwest. The report also ranked Dominican as the No. 1 Best Value in Illinois and No. 6 in Best Undergraduate Teaching.
But perhaps Dominican is most proud of our recognition as No. 1 in the Chicago area and No. 3 in the Midwest in the survey's "social mobility" category. The category measures how well schools are serving as engines of mobility by moving economically disadvantaged students, specifically those receiving federal Pell grants intended for families with total incomes less than $20,000, up the economic ladder.
Social mobility results when the barriers that perpetuate inequities in our educational system are resolved. All students can experience academic success if they are given the appropriate support structure. Institutions of higher education must find ways to relate content to students' lived experiences. Many students enter college with gaps in academic preparedness -- but with strengths that, if identified and celebrated, can help students see themselves as valuable contributors to their learning environment and, ultimately, actualize their potential.
Dominican has a long history of educating first-generation-to-college, low-income and immigrant students. Almost half of our undergraduates are first-generation and 54% are Pell grant recipients. We are committed to interrupting the cycle of generational poverty by providing marginalized students with access to a college education and giving them the tools to succeed once they enroll.
The university partners with organizations that are dedicated to closing the postsecondary access gap, including OneGoal and the University of Chicago's To & Through Project, to identify and recruit highly motivated but under-resourced Chicago students of color. We then provide the wraparound support systems to help them acclimate and thrive in college.
Dominican uses Star Tracker, a coordinated alert system, during an incoming student's pivotal first semester -- at three, six and nine weeks -- to ensure that they are engaging in college and staying on track academically. The program allows us to connect students who may be struggling with advisers who can help direct them to resources.
"The Village," a leadership development program and support network, is specifically designed to boost the retention, persistence and graduation rates of our African American students. The program includes one-on-one mentorship, an internship program and intensive sessions on financial literacy and career readiness.
Because many of our students need to work to cover their tuition and to help provide for their families, while juggling classes, Dominican offers two programs that provide stipends to students interested in gaining leadership skills while serving in faith-based organizations and nonprofits in Chicago's neighborhoods and western suburbs.
Ministry en lo Cotidiano is designed primarily for our Latinx students, and the Beloved Community is designed primarily for our African American students. Both programs have significantly boosted retention rates among participating students of color.
An officially designated Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), with nearly 58% of students self-identifying as Latinx, Dominican has made extraordinary efforts to be responsive to the diverse needs of our growing Hispanic student population. Last year, we opened our Center for Cultural Liberation to provide a designated space on campus and to create a sense of belonging for our Latinx, Black and other underrepresented students. The CCL also sponsors multicultural programs throughout the year to build cultural competency and community engagement among faculty and staff, as well as students.
Dominican's HSI status helped procure a five-year, $1.5 million National Science Foundation STEM Success Project aimed at increasing retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students in STEM fields. The comprehensive project includes a summer bridge program for incoming freshman, the embedding of peer tutors in gateway courses, and the use of a dedicated case manager focused on helping students with the nonacademic concerns that can derail their college dreams.
The project has already exceeded expectations and the university is using it as a model for boosting outcomes throughout the undergraduate curriculum.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated vast health care inequities in society. As front-line workers and service industry employees, many Dominican students and their families, who are not able to work remotely, have been particularly impacted by the pandemic.
To help them persist in college, Dominican collaborates with NowPow, an online platform that connects commuting students with community-based resources such as mental health services, financial assistance, housing and food in their own neighborhoods. The program allows us to connect students with programs located within walking distance of their homes.
These initiatives and interventions are just a few of the many efforts that have helped Dominican boost retention and graduation rates and ensure the social mobility of our students. We are committed to "walking the walk" with our students, particularly those who face so many barriers to success.
And, ultimately, we are focused on ensuring that they persist and graduate on time with meaningful purpose. These determined students have the potential to be great assets and productive members of society. And we have the privilege of boosting their chances of success.
• Barrington Price is vice president of student success and engagement at Dominican University in River Forest.