Five-Year Initiative at Minority-Serving Institutions Yields Success in Student Learning and Participation
California State University, Dominguez Hills has been recognized by the national Building Engagement and Attainment for Minority Students (BEAMS) program for its ability to address issues such as retention and faculty development in a time of budget limitations and staff shortages. On March 25, the university hosted the West Coast unveiling of the results of the five-year BEAMS initiative at a luncheon in the Loker Student Union Ballroom on campus.
Overseen by the Institute for Higher Education (IHEP), BEAMS charged more than 100 historically black, Hispanic-serving, or tribally-controlled four-year institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico to develop research-driven initiatives that sought to improve the engagement, learning and success of minority students. Dominguez Hills’ approaches to that directive were profiled in the BEAMS final findings monograph, Increasing Student Success at Minority-Serving Institutions: Findings from the BEAMS Project, along with practices and initiatives from the Universidad de Puerto Rico at Humacao; University of the Incarnate Word; Jarvis Christian College; University of the District of Columbia; Alcorn State University; and Oglala Lakota College.
The monograph is available on IHEP’s Web site at www.ihep.org. Also available online are the project’s eight practice briefs that focus on aligning multiple campus initiatives, campus leaders' support, co-curricular activities, collecting survey data for assessment, engagement among campus constituencies, faculty development, first-year programs, student support services technology, and writing across the curriculum.
While visiting Cal State Dominguez Hills last summer, BEAMS program associate Melissa Del Rios commended the faculty and administration for their resourcefulness in meeting the challenges laid out by data culled from the National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE). Using evidence from NSSE and other sources, BEAMS institutions analyzed the scope and character of student engagement to help develop their action plans.
“It’s been absolutely impressive what Dominguez Hills has been able to do while incorporating so many issues and seeing results in a short time,” she says. “Ideally, we want every institution to see retention and we know that it takes years for changes to take place, but we know this campus has had some really good short-term outcomes. And by overcoming a lot of funding issues, they’ve been able to implement practices that we think would be of value to other institutions. So, we want to share those best practices with other institutions across the country.”
The BEAMS project at CSU Dominguez Hills, a public Hispanic-Serving Institution, received recognition on its five-year plan of improving multiple levels of academic engagement and university support of faculty and students. Of special note was a focus on revamping an introductory course on higher education, University 101, to make it more relevant and have a greater impact on student success.
Designed to ease the transition to college and provide skills for college and beyond, the University 101 course had originally been voluntary and only four sections were offered. Today, there are 12 sections and more than 600 students enroll each year, and as a result of a concerted effort by administrators and faculty to make the course a success, retention rates have improved. First-year students participating in University 101 had a 78 percent retention rate to year two, while freshmen not participating had a 53 percent retention rate. These results led CSU Dominguez administrators to make University 101 a mandatory course for all freshmen beginning in fall 2009.
“One of the best descriptors of engagement is if [students] stay in college,” says James Cooper, professor of graduate education at Dominguez Hills. According to the BEAMS team leader, UNV 101 has produced a 20 percent increase in freshmen making it to their sophomore year since its pre-BEAMS inception in 2000.
Randy Zarn, associate vice president for student life in the Office of Student Affairs, underscores the value of UNV 101 to the institution, saying that “Our first-time freshmen are experiencing something on our campus that is superior to some of the national norms.”
Another component of the CSU Dominguez Hills BEAMS action plan that was highlighted in the monograph was the strengthening the university’s faculty development program. The team created a speakers series that in the past four years has featured internationally known higher education experts. The exchange of information and ideas through the series and corresponding workshops produce strategies professors can use in their classrooms to enhance student learning.
“The speaker series is completely original,” says Del Rios. “They’ve done something that none of the other institutions involved in the project have, which is to incorporate so many different aspects of teaching and learning into their professional development.”
The BEAMS lunch, which featured a panel of experts who discussed the project’s findings and recommendations is currently available for viewing on the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning Web site. On the panel were Cooper; Scott Evenbeck, dean, University College, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis; Tony Fresquez, faculty, Department of Humanities, Oglala Lakota College, South Dakota; and Cheryl Spector, director, Academic First Year Experience, California State University, Northridge.
BEAMS is a partnership between the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Alliance for Equity in Higher Education and is supported by the Lumina Foundation for Education.
- Amy Bentley-Smith and Joanie Harmon
Visitors from participating institutions within the Building Engagement and Attainment for Minority Students (BEAMS) program visited
CSU Dominguez Hills in March.
Pictured, L-R: Scott Evenbeck, dean, University College, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis;
Cheryl Spector, director, Academic First Year Experience, CSU Northridge;
James Cooper, professor of graduate education and BEAMS team leader, CSU Dominguez Hills; and
Tony Fresquez, faculty, Department of Humanities, Oglala Lakota College, South Dakota
Standing: Dr. Mildred García, president, CSU Dominguez Hills and Melissa Del Rios, BEAMS program
associate. Photo by Joanie Harmon