The Program for Engineering Access, Retention, and LIATS Success seeks to increase success statistics of low-income, academically talented students (LIATS) in the host institution. Engineering college-level statistics for 2015 revealed that students coming from households with income above $50,000/year exhibited 73% graduation rate, while those coming from families with income below $7,500/year graduated at a 54% rate. Similar disparities were also observed in retention and persistence rates for these groups, with a marked higher attrition among students in the lower income bracket.
To reverse these trends, the said project proposed a comprehensive intervention model that integrates elements from Lent’s et al. Social Cognitive Career Theory and Tinto’s Departure Model. The model was coupled with a scholarship program aimed at mitigating economic hardship faced by LIATS. The resulting LIAT College Access and Success Model included tools for reinforcing academic performance, faculty mentoring elements, extra-curricular activities, peer group support interactions, and research and work experiences in a five-stage, longitudinal approach that includes LIATS’ Background Experiences, Belonging, Formation, Growth, and Graduation. The project implemented customized Individual Development Plans (IDPs) to guide students’ academic and professional development, and a Professional Electronic Portfolios system developed via a peer-mentor structure to showcase research and academic products, career interests, and professional training of participating students.
A group of 92 students from ten different engineering programs and four different entry levels, namely freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and first-year graduates joined the project. Evaluations performed so far include students’ sense of belonging, academic achievement, and involvement in research and work experiences as a result of participating in the program. Assessment methods for quantifying impact have included data collected via questionnaires, students’ self-assessment measures, and academic performance metrics. Descriptive statistics and academic performance indicators indicate that 97.9% of program students performed above the college-wide average. Freshmen retention reached 97.1%, while all sophomores, juniors, and grads persisted by re-enrolling for their next study year with average 93.1% progress towards graduation. When compared to similar indicators among the general engineering student population, these statistics reveal significant improvements for our target group across all indicators. This paper describes the overall initiative, the implementation of activities, outcomes for the first of a five-year longitudinal design, and reflections on our findings.
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