Assistant U.S. Education Secretary Visits UMKC Student Success Programs

Johnny Collett comes from Washington for first-hand look at Propel and International Center for Supplemental Instruction
Johnny Collett, assistant secretary of education, walks down a hallway with UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal.

UMKC has been a pioneer in development of highly effective programs that promote success for a wide variety of students. A top education official visited campus to get a close-up look at two of them. 

Mauli Agrawal and Johnny Collett sat in a meeting room at the University of Missouri-Kansas City to discuss the focus on student success that is becoming pervasive in American higher education. They agreed that the “sink or swim” attitude that held sway for generations is no longer workable; the nation’s skilled workforce needs are too great to allow universities to stand by and watch capable students fail.

Agrawal is the chancellor of UMKC; Collett is the assistant U.S. secretary of education. They met after Collett toured two highly successful programs at UMKC: Propel, a certificate-granting transition program for young adults with intellectual developmental disabilities; and the International Center for Supplemental Instruction, a student peer-driven program based on out-of-class group study sessions, developed at UMKC in the 1970s.

A recent study by Civitas Learning included Supplemental Instruction, founded by UMKC, among the top five student-success programs nationwide out of almost 1,000 reviewed.

Agrawal compared the modern approach – research-driven student success programs designed to provide individualize support for students to reach their full potential – to the practice of genetically individualized medicine.

“We all have an academic DNA as well,” Agrawal said. “Your educational needs will be different than mine.”

Collett nodded in agreement, adding that his federal department is dedicated to success for all students.

“When we say all, we really mean all. And all has to mean each,” Collett said.

Collett began his campus visit with a tour of the Propel program; he was accompanied by Gerren McHam, special assistant for external relations for the Missouri Department of Higher Education. They were greeted by John Herron, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; and Alexis Petri, associate research professor of psychology, who directs the Propel program.

Many of the 46 students currently enrolled in Propel live in on-campus student housing. Petri said they take 60 to 70 percent of their credits in standard classes with traditional degree-seeking students; 60 percent of the Propel students are eligible for Pell low-income tuition grants.

Herron said having Propel students immersed in the mix of the general student body is a teaching opportunity for all students, and campus visitors as well.

“We’re sending a message about what kind of place this is – a message about what we care about and what we value,” Herron said.

Collett asked about concerns of parents about their students succeeding in the college environment.

“Parents need to understand that this is a safe space for their student to bump into challenges, a place where we have support systems in place to help them meet those challenges,” Petri said.

The tour then moved from Cherry Hall, home of the Propel program, to the Atterbury Student Success Center, where the International Center for Supplemental Instruction (SI) is housed. Julie A. Collins, Ed.D., executive director of the center, led that tour.

Collins explained that SI is targeted to “high-risk” courses – courses necessary for graduation that have a historically high failure rate. Undergraduate students who have previously passed the course are hired to be peer coaches who lead small-group out-of-class study sessions focused on the hurdles individual students are facing. 

A recent study by Civitas Learning included SI among the top five student-success programs nationwide out of almost 1,000 reviewed.

Following the meeting with Agrawal and Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Collett announced that the Department of Education had just released new guidelines on the use of federal funds for higher education programs for young people with disabilities.

Collett said the department wanted to clear up confusion by stating that vocational rehabilitation and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funds can be used to support dual enrollment, comprehensive transition and other postsecondary education programs for students and youth with disabilities.

Published: Sep 18, 2019

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