School of Education News

Grant allows ELPA researcher to expand study of minority-serving institutions

November 13, 2012

When examining various aspects of student success across the higher education landscape, one could argue that observers are rarely given a complete picture of the situation.

Instead, what’s provided all too often is a snapshot of what’s taking place at the more traditional, public and private schools across the nation. But Clifton Conrad, a professor at UW-Madison’s School of Education, is teaming up with Marybeth Gasman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, to further identify and elevate exemplars of student success at minority serving institutions.

Recently, USA Funds awarded Conrad, Gasman and their team of researchers with a $275,000 grant to examine Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI)-serving institutions. The Minority-Serving Institutions Models of Success Project will study retention, learning and degree attainment at three AAPI schools during the next two years. Team members will check out the environments at these colleges and universities, study student success initiatives and institutional data, and research peer and faculty-student relationships.

“Minority serving institutions engender strategies for success that are empowering students of color,” says Conrad, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. “We should look to these institutions for strategies that are working, so that we are able to replicate them elsewhere.”

This most recent grant to examine the AAPI institutions will build on research by Conrad and Gasman that dates to a three-year, $1.5 million award in 2011 from the Lumina Foundation for Education, USA Funds and the Kresge Foundation. These dollars also are being used to examine “models of success” – especially as they relate to student retention and degree attainment -- at a range of minority serving institutions.

The initial nine schools in the project include three historically black colleges and universities (Norfolk State University, Morehouse College and Paul Quinn College), three hispanic-serving institutions (San Diego City College, La Sierra University and El Paso Community College) and three tribal colleges and universities (Chief Dull Knife College, Salish Koontenai College and the College of Menominee Nation in Wisconsin).

In order to better understand the big picture and to further the comprehensivness of this initial work, the researchers knew that they needed to expand their studies to include the Asian-American and Pacific Islander-serving colleges and universities.

“AAPI serving institutions are a new and emerging form of (minority serving institutions),” Conrad explains. “It’s important to include them in a project that looks at MSIs and student success.”

Gasman adds there is another good reason to include Asian-American and Pacific Islander-serving colleges and universities to the project, noting that “AAPI students suffer from being perceived as a ‘model minority,’ which has perpetuated a common notion, highlighted by a recent Pew Report, that AAPIs are universally high-achieving and economically successful, when we know this to be untrue. AAPI Institutions challenge this misconception and add to the complex story of (minority-serving institutions) in the United States.”

The research team still must narrow down which three AAPI institutions it will study – and that’s out of 116 eligible schools. After the three are identified, each college or university is to present a handful of successful student initiatives. The researchers then will study those programs by examining institutional data and interviewing faculty, staff and students.

The researchers also will consult an external advisory board that includes experts on Asian-American and Pacific Islander-serving institutions. By December 2013, Conrad and Gasman hope to have a more well-rounded view of a range of initiatives that can be duplicated across the higher education landscape.

“We hope to find strategies and models for student success that can be adopted by other (minority-serving institutions) and majority institutions,” Gasman says.

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