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Navigating Success

BSU receives grant for program focused on equity in learning, retention

Bridgewater State University’s work to advance social and racial justice recently garnered the attention and significant support of a philanthropic donor.

After learning more about how faculty, librarians, staff, and administrators work on behalf of students to ensure student success for all, they anonymously donated a $1.35 million grant to support the campus’ ongoing work.

“BSU’s focus on supporting all students and closing equity gaps, especially through the Student Navigator program, really impressed the donor” said Sabrina Gentlewarrior vice president of student success and diversity.

The Student Navigator Program, designed to help identify students who might likely benefit from additional support and care, is a clear example of how Bridgewater is successfully centralizing racially equitable tenets and practices.

“When we base our student success efforts in racial equity, white students succeed at higher rates than in the past and students of color enjoy an even bigger increase in retention, resulting in a closing of equity gaps,” Gentlewarrior said.

Retention rates is one area where the Student Navigator Program particularly shines.

In 2020, the program’s inaugural year, a cohort made up of 401 first-time, full-time students at BSU were identified as at-risk for dropping out without additional services. They subsequently received Navigator and other campus-wide support.

Of those students, 72 percent stayed on for a second year.

The anonymous donor was impressed with the work of Institutional Research (IR) in providing equity-oriented data that drives student success efforts at BSU. 

"The predictive analysis model developed by IR, which identifies students that will benefit from additional support in order to succeed at BSU, has been instrumental in the Student Navigator Program," said Senior Associate Provost and Chief Data Officer Michael Young. "Knowledge of incoming predictive analysis score provides a gauge to measure the impact of interventions provided by the Navigators on the subsequent success of those students receiving services."

“We were able to show the effectiveness of our services and approach with student navigators. They were excited about our story, our commitment and data-informed approach that shows clear outcomes and support of all students,” added Cecilia DeOliveira, executive director of student success and equity intervention.

The Student Navigator Program is more than just direct student support, Gentlewarrior said, it also offers the opportunity for administrators to listen to students and understand their needs.

“When students share about potential institutional obstacles to their success, that information is immediately discussed with institutional partners so that together the campus can consider additional ways BSU can become both more student ready and equitable in our practices,” she said.

This was also shared with the donor.

“That was a turning point in our meeting, as we were able to prove not only the effectiveness of our services but also our approach in terms of student success work at BSU,” DeOliveira said.

In addition to funding new three student navigator positions the donor offered funds to pay for a student success support software system, as well as for Retention Scholarships to aid students with non-payment holds preventing registration.   

Ellen Cuttle Oliver, chief development officer and executive director of the BSU Foundation said, it’s impressive that the donor is so invested.

“Like many, the donor is interested in innovation that is sustainable and they understood that by partnering with BSU, they can help to change the world, one individual at a time” she said. “Outcomes matter, and because our data, and the collaborative, interdivisional work of faculty, librarians and staff across campus was so strong and consistent, we were able to share how scaling this program assists all of our students – without exception.”

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