By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—It’s no secret: Tough life circumstances can make degree completion difficult for many college students.
In fact, if our institution mirrors others in higher education, nearly 40% of all students who enroll at IU Southeast might end up leaving without the benefit of a degree.
Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, president of Amarillo College in Amarillo, Texas and an expert on empowering students, will address these issues at the upcoming Faculty Academy Excellence in Teaching (FACET) Spring Symposium on Jan. 25.
The event will give IU Southeast faculty a chance to discuss how problems such as inequality, marginalization and vulnerability may be affecting teaching and learning at IU Southeast.
“The hard truth is that not all students who enter college have the same experience,” said Dr. Lisa Russell, associate professor of strategic management and entrepreneurship. “Marginalized, vulnerable, resource-insufficient, and at-risk students encounter inequalities in life, and in school, not generally faced by those who enter college with traditional support systems in place.”
Without that support, many students are essentially set up to fail. Colleges are beginning to address these challenges, but the signs of trouble are often difficult to recognize, either because of institutional blind spots or the ability of many at-risk students to mask their needs, to the extent they are even fully aware of them.
Russell who is FACET campus co-liaison at IU Southeast, led the effort to invite Lowery-Hart. She had been inspired by his presentation last spring at the FACET Leadership Institute kick-off conference at IUPUI in Indianapolis, and a feature story on his work in The Atlantic.
“On his campus, where many students are living in truly abject poverty, he has turned things around for these kids,” Russell said. “And as a side note, they’ve also lowered dropout rates, increased throughput rates, eliminated achievement gaps by race, and decreased extended time in school by 150 percent.”
Lowery-Hart’s recipe for success involves a campus-wide commitment to lifting students out of poverty, and includes steps such as emergency financial aid, food pantries, shortened semesters, connections to social services and other initiatives, some of which are already available at IU Southeast.
For Russell, the goal is to make poverty personal.
Just as Lowery-Hart went “undercover” as a homeless person to experience the raw want and humiliation of poverty that many of his students have known, Russell is challenging her FACET colleagues, and through them the entire campus community, to extend themselves, and become more proactive regarding students whose situation may be more serious than it appears.
“It’s really hard to know how many students are struggling, or who they are,” Russell said. “But even if there’s only one, and we’re overlooking her or him, that’s one too many.”