A Q&A with West Chester University
College Possible Philadelphia has been privileged to deepen a partnership with West Chester University since 2015. In that time, dozens of College Possible students have been able to visit West Chester University’s campus and many have selected West Chester University (WCU) as the place to pursue their four-year degree.
As a College Possible Philadelphia Explore-level partner in the organization’s Connects program, WCU continues to be an institution that promotes academic excellence while providing inclusive learning opportunities for first-generation and low-income students.
College Possible students have found WCU to be a great place to call home and have been able to assimilate into a culture that is going to propel them toward persistence and a college degree.
What does WCU see as the greatest challenge facing your institution in the next five years?
I think the challenges that we are going to face are not just specific to us but to the higher education landscape. The cost of college is certainly an ongoing issue. Institutions also need to have a better pulse check on social issues and an awareness about what is going on in society because it affects our students. We need to be more forward thinking and have a plan in place to counteract those situations when they arise.
What is the number one challenge students from low-income backgrounds face in college?
These students know that they want to go to college and they have the grit to do it, they just often don’t know how to start the process or the steps it entails. We really try to work with these students to help them navigate deadlines and paperwork. Even if we have heard a question 1,000 times, we often have to remind ourselves that this is the first time this student has asked the question and we should be patient and consider the student’s individual experience when interacting with them.
What is an interesting or innovative initiative WCU has taken on to improve retention and graduation rates?
We have a mentoring program through the multi-cultural center which has helped with our retention of students of color. We are moving toward more mentoring programs. We also have The Fredrick Douglass Society at West Chester, which is made up of staff members from all across campus. The focus of this society is on social justice, uplifting our students, pushing them to be leaders and teaching them to support one another.
How can College Possible better align with WCU and its strategic goals?
Currently, we are revamping our strategic plan, but I can tell you that it will be based on our mission, which I think aligns perfectly with College Possible’s mission. Our mission is one of inclusivity, the common good, providing access and creating well-rounded individuals. Both organizations are looking at those pieces. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, those are the schools that you serve in. You assist students with navigating the [college] process and create well-rounded students who know what questions to ask and are prepared for the next part of their journey. That provides an easy and seamless transition from your program to ours.
How has WCU worked with College Possible to serve students?
We provide multiple touchpoints to College Possible students. During their junior year of high school, we invite them to come on to campus on our shadow day so they can see what it’s like to be a Ram for the day. In the fall of their senior year, College Possible students are invited to our first invitation day so they can check us out. During the spring semester they can attend West Chester Bound Day, which is the accepted student’s day. Once students are in our database, we continue to contact them and answer any questions they have or help them through the admissions process.
Has WCU’s partnership with College Possible led to any changes or initiatives across campus?
It hasn’t led to specific changes as of yet, but we do make College Possible students a priority. As the number of students increase we are interested to see how our partnership grows.
Our special thanks to Stephanie Allen, Assistant Director of Multicultural Recruitment & Community Outreach, at West Chester University for taking part in this interview.
By Ian Reitz