LAWRENCE — The children of migrant workers face formidable obstacles to educational success and, not surprisingly, as a group have one of the highest dropout rates in the nation. Poverty, low wages, deplorable and unsafe living conditions, interrupted schooling, lack of social mobility and paucity of educational opportunities plague these families.
But these children and their families have allies at the University of Kansas. A new five-year, $1,994,449 federal award from the Department of Education will establish the Heartland College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), a college-freshman retention program that expands upon migrant-student services already offered through the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP) in the Achievement & Assessment Institute.
Heartland CAMP joins more than 40 other CAMPs nationally, including two others in the state of Kansas, and will serve qualified students at KU and at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska, and Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City, Iowa. The four schools have strong histories of working with first-generation low-income students, especially through federal TRIO-Student Support Services programs.
Ngondi Kamatuka, director of the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs in KU’s Achievement & Assessment Institute, will serve as principal investigator; Stacy Mendez will serve as program director.
“Even when students from these backgrounds are accepted into college, if they do not have the full range of support services, the likelihood of their success is disproportionately diminished,” Kamatuka said. “A confluence of socioeconomic disadvantages work against these students, but this program provides the type of support system that can make all the difference between staying in school and thriving, and dropping out.
“In addition to providing direct assistance to students, we will provide professional development to colleagues at Donnelly, Metropolitan and Western Iowa, so this also means we will be expanding the capacity for serving this student population even beyond the life of the grant. The training those educators receive will prepare and empower them to better develop migrant-student programs at their institutions.”
Over the five-year life of the award, a total of 175 students (35 per year) at the four institutions will receive scholarship assistance, academic advising and tutoring services. Each Heartland CAMP Scholar will receive a scholarship grant covering approximately 50 percent of their tuition, plus a small stipend to help defray living expenses. During their freshman year they also will have access to loaner laptop computers that they may keep beyond year one if they earn a 2.5 GPA or better. The Heartland CAMP program also will help scholars identify funding for the remainder of their college careers.
Administratively, the award will support two full-time CEOP staff members plus support staff and an evaluation team; the grant also will fund recruitment and retention coordinators at each of the three partner institutions.
“This is a freshman retention program, and make no mistake, it has the capacity to change these students’ lives for the better,” Mendez said. “We intend to see the vast majority of those students not only complete their freshman year but also return for their sophomore year and beyond.”
Mendez also directs CEOP’s Harvest of Hope Leadership Academy (HHLA), a free program that strives to inspire, support and empower migrant Kansas high-school students to achieve academic success. She said Heartland CAMP represents a logical companion program to HHLA.
“It’s the same population, it’s just a different time in their academic development,” Mendez said. “Whereas Harvest of Hope Leadership Academy gets them when they are in high school and sows the seeds of interest in attending college and how to best prepare for success, the Heartland CAMP helps them successfully transition during their first year of college, which we know from research is crucial in deciding whether they make it through to graduation.”
Each June since 2008, HHLA has provided a three-week Summer Academy. A group of about 30 eligible students preparing to enter the ninth through 12th grades come to the KU campus to live, learn, and work together to explore and develop leadership skills as well as gain the knowledge and skills necessary to graduate from high school and pursue a college education. During the academic year, HHLA continues to support migrant students’ educational success through regional workshops, newsletters, advising and special programs.
“What’s most rewarding to me,” Mendez said, “is when students say, ‘I didn’t believe college was possible for me, and now I do. And not only do I believe it’s possible, but I understand what to do to get there.’”
This summer, for the first time, HHLA employed two staff mentors who are HHLA and CAMP alumni and are now enrolled in college and thriving in their studies. HHLA also brought in other migrant student alumni to talk with students during a career-exploration event. These alumni attribute their college success, in part, to the support they received from programs like HHLA and CAMP.
Mendez said, “They could say, ‘I was where you were. My parents worked in the meatpacking industry, or in the fields. I understand your struggles, and I know firsthand that you can succeed and you can make a better life for you and your family, and it can begin with your education.’ That’s why I do what I do, and that’s why I believe the Heartland CAMP is another important piece in the support system we are assembling to help these students realize their college and life goals.”
About the Achievement & Assessment Institute (AAI)
AAI is the umbrella organization for four specialized research centers at the University of Kansas, including CEOP, which supports a wide spectrum of learners and provides educational information, counseling, academic instruction, tutoring, assistance in applying for financial aid and supportive encouragement to both students and their families. Programs help students overcome academic, economic, social and cultural barriers to higher education.
AAI’s other research centers are Agile Technology Solutions, the Center for Public Partnerships & Research and the Center for Educational Testing & Evaluation. In all, AAI employs about 500 staff members, all committed to building partnerships, products and programs in educational practice, assessment and evaluation. These initiatives benefit children, adults, communities and publicly funded agencies at the local, state and national levels.
Achievement & Assessment Institute
The University of Kansas
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