One of The College of St. Scholastica’s biggest opportunities in the next five years is shaping its institution to meet the needs of the changing demographics of college students.
The school is seeing an increasing number of students from low-income backgrounds, first-generation college students and students of color. With the help of strategic partnerships with organizations like College Possible, St. Scholastica is working to address the specific challenges and needs of these groups.
“We must ensure that as our student population is changing, our services to support our students are also evolving,” said Director of First Year Admissions Bryan Karl.
The College of St. Scholastica became a Bridge Partner in spring 2015 and, in the four years since, has done much to further its commitment to enrolling and retaining students from low-income and other non-traditional backgrounds. Karl explains that College Possible played a big role in the Duluth, Minnesota institution’s development of new strategies to reach, serve and support students.
“Our partnership has provided networking and strategic planning opportunities for staff members from both College Possible and St. Scholastica to meet and develop new plans for addressing the challenges faced by students from low-income families, many of whom are also first-generation college students.”
St. Scholastica’s faculty, administration and staff believe in “inclusive excellence,” which means that academic excellence is best realized in a community that is diverse and inclusive.
“This is central to the mission of St. Scholastica as a Catholic Benedictine institution,” said Karl. “The College of St. Scholastica cannot consider itself to have achieved excellence unless all students and employees feel empowered to succeed with equity in access, opportunity and success.”
To help realize that mission, St. Scholastica has removed a common barrier to admission for many students by going to a test-optional admissions process.
“Our research shows that qualitative indicators other than test scores often provide the best insight into a student’s capacity for success at St. Scholastica,” said Karl. Prospective students may still submit ACT or SAT scores, but they now have the option to submit an essay describing overall academic achievements if they do not feel their standardized test scores reflect their academic ability.
St. Scholastica has also taken an innovative approach to improve retention and graduation rates by making a four-year pledge to students. The pledge states: “new students who enter the college as first-year undergraduates and follow simple guidelines will graduate in four years.” If a student follows the guidelines and is unable to complete their education in four years, St. Scholastica will provide the student with a grant to cover tuition until their degree is complete.
Finally, St. Scholastica places a high priority on helping students finance their education. Chris Davila, director of St. Scholastica’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, says that he sees finances as the biggest challenge facing students from low-income backgrounds. Navigating the process of acquiring financial aid can be complex and hold students back from enrolling or completing their degrees, he said, in ways ranging from not knowing the necessity for completing the FAFSA to being unaware of scholarships or federal funding.
“Our job is to educate and assist students with navigating these challenges,” said Davila.
With assistance from organizations like College Possible, The College of St. Scholastica is confident that they have the strategies in place to reach, serve and support students from low-income backgrounds on the path to a college degree.