Looking at the Big Picture: Penn Researcher Receives Grant to Study Success at Minority-serving Institutions

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | jdisanto@upenn.edu | 215-898-4820November 2, 2012

Panoramic images enable one to see everything in one complete picture, providing a better understanding of the entire setting.

And when looking at the landscape of higher education and student success, the viewer has to be able to see more than just a snapshot of public and private schools.

Viewing the whole picture of today’s higher-ed landscape includes looking closely at “Models of Success” at minority-serving institutions, such as historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities.

These places of higher learning offer many programs and practices that contribute significantly to student success but have remained largely invisible within the overall higher-education community. 

To identify and elevate these exemplars of student success at minority-serving institutions, Marybeth Gasman, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, teamed up with Clifton Conrad, a professor at the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Together, with their research team, Gasman and Conrad selected nine minority-serving institutions to participate in a national study examining “Models of Success.”  The nine included three HBCUs (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 (College of Menominee Nation, Chief Dull Knife College and Salish Koontenai College). 

“Minority-serving institutions engender strategies for success that empower students of color,” Gasman says. “We should look to these institutions for strategies that are working, so that we are able to replicate them elsewhere.”

But, in order to provide the “big picture” and to complete this comprehensive study, the researchers knew that they were missing one key component: Asian-American and Pacific Islander-serving institutions.

“AAPI-serving institutions are a new and emerging form of the MSI,” Gasman explains.  “It’s important to include them in a project that looks at MSIs and student success.”

“Given the diverse nature of the AAPI community and the growing importance of AAPI-serving Institutions across the nation, the Minority-Serving Institutions Models of Success Project would not be complete without their inclusion,” Conrad explains. 

“Additionally, 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,” Gasman explains.  “AAPI Institutions challenge this misconception and add to the complex story of MSIs in the United States.”

Recently, USA Funds provided Gasman, Conrad and their team with a $275,000 grant to research student success at AAPI-serving institutions. 

In this first-of-its-kind study, the researchers will study retention, learning and degree attainment at three AAPI institutions during the next two years.  They will examine the environments at these colleges and universities, student success initiatives and institutional data, as well as peer relationships and faculty-student relationships.

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

The researchers will study three of 116 eligible AAPI institutions.

The process involves an intense evaluation of each school, how they address the grant proposal’s requirements, their success strategies’ originality and the research that the institution uses to illustrate success. 

In addition, the researchers will consult an external advisory board, which includes experts on Asian-American and Pacific Islander-serving institutions.  Advisory board members include Neil Horikoshi, the president and executive director of the Asian and Pacific Islander-American Scholarship Fund, and Robert Terenishi, an associate professor of higher education at New York University and principal investigator of the National Commission on Asian-American and Pacific Islander Research in Education.

By December 2013, Gasman and Conrad hope to have a crisp, in-focus panoramic view of student success at minority-serving institutions and how these “Models of Success” can be duplicated to develop more diversity within higher education.

The “Models of Success” project is funded by the Lumina Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and USA Funds.