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College Awarded Prestigious Wal-Mart Grant
July 2008, the Council of Independent Colleges awarded the Wal-Mart College Success Award to the College of Mount Saint Vincent. This $100,000 grant — awarded to only 20 colleges nationally from a pool of 217 applicants—will help the College to build upon its long history of successfully enrolling, retaining, and graduating first-generation college students.

The award will allow for the expansion of assistance to first-generation students in two critical areas. First, the Parent Support Initiative will address the transitional and adjustment issues that first-generation college students face. The success of college students is undoubtedly connected to the preparedness of parents to support, guide and assist their children with the transition to college life. The Parent Support Initiative will enhance the success of first-generation college students by educating and reinforcing support strategies of their parents. It will offer a three-day student and parent/guardian orientation for all incoming students, which will familiarize students and parents with resources, key college personnel and success strategies.

The second feature will be the Commuter Assistant Program. Commuting students are often on campus for only a few hours each day, making it less likely that they will become fully involved in the college life. Involvement has been shown to be a key indicator of college success. The Commuter Assistant Program will foster relationships between commuters and the Program’s staff. It will serve as a resource for campus policies and procedures and provide
community-building and educational activities for the commuter population through outreach, individual contact and programming. The Commuter Assistant Program will preemptively address the needs of first-generation students, while serving as a safety net through the early identification of students who are struggling academically,
personally or socially.

Nationwide, at all colleges and universities, only 24 percent of first-generation students succeed in earning a bachelor’s degree compared with 68 percent of students who have one or more parents who have received a bachelor’s degree. The Mount by contrast graduates first-generation students at a rate in excess of 70 percent.

The reasons for such low graduation national rates are many. For instance, first-generation students often come from families less knowledgeable about college who may not recognize its value, resulting in a weaker support system for the student. Moreover, the primary language spoken in the first-generation student’s home is often not English, which means both reduced fluency than their native counterparts and poorer writing skills.

The College has long offered first-generation students assistance through its TRIO Student Support Services Program. TRIO, a U.S. Department of Education funded program, has been in place at the Mount since 1999; it offers first generation students a number of services, including academic counseling, remedial instruction, financial support, academic advocacy and community building through cultural enrichment. No doubt TRIO’s success helped the College to stand out in the eyes of CIC reviewers.

Thanks to CIC and Wal-Mart, the College is now able to project further increases in its graduation rate as it is able to “fine tune” its already successful retention efforts through Wal-Mart Foundation’s generous grant. Said Charles L. Flynn, Jr., President of the College, “We have the pleasure of being one of the twenty most diverse colleges and universities in the United States— public and private combined. A majority of our students are in the first generation of their families to attend college. In that sense, we make possible the American dream.”

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