Federal grant will help first-year Gavilan students start college on solid footing

Teachers, union reach stalemate

Thanks to a $650,000 annual grant from the federal government
for the next five years, Gavilan College plans to focus on engaging
and retaining first-year college students.
Thanks to a $650,000 annual grant from the federal government for the next five years, Gavilan College plans to focus on engaging and retaining first-year college students.

The grant was awarded by the United States Department of Education under the Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program. It will help launch a two-part project to increase student engagement, success and momentum while focusing on the first year of college for Hispanic and low-income students.

The first part of the project will help develop new instructional strategies and allow faculty members, who are deemed to use the best learning practices, to serve as mentors to their colleagues. Second, the grant will make it easier for the college to properly assess, place and guide incoming students through their first year.

The initiatives will give students a more solid footing as they begin their college careers, said Gavilan spokeswoman Jan Bernstein-Chargin.

“The data shows that many students start college, then drop out after or during their first year,” she said.

Increasing active learning, student engagement, the success rate of students in basic skills courses and reducing the performance gap – among Hispanic and low-income students and their white, middle-income or higher counterparts – are just a few of the goals Gavilan hopes to achieve with the grant money.

More than half of the students that enter Gavilan place into basic English or English as a Second Language courses. Of those who do succeed in the first skills course, many do not progress beyond to college-level coursework, according to college staff.

“They’re used to being passive learners,” Bernstein-Chargin said.

The new training will teach instructors how to engage their students in more active learning techniques that require students to collaborate, solve problems and engage in critical thinking, she said.

Gavilan has already piloted similar student engagement strategies on a smaller scale with their First-Year Experience initiative. Students enrolled in that program take classes together to strengthen their reading, writing and study skills while they become familiar with the campus and its resources. Faculty and peer tutors provide critical skills support for the program. First-Year Experience students had higher success rates than their peers not enrolled in the program.

“This grant gives us the opportunity to apply strategies that have worked for a handful of students to a much bigger group,” Bernstein-Chargin said.

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