Peer Review

Campus-Based Strategies for African American Student Success

Florida International University (FIU), with an enrollment of fifty-five thousand students, is one of the nation’s largest urban public research universities. Participation in the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AAC&U’s) Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence project was motivated by the university’s commitment to remaining an “accessible” institution for the South Florida community. Hispanics represented 61 percent and African American students represented 14 percent of our enrollment for the 2014–15 academic year. Long-term goals and objectives for the AAC&U project are to succeed with (1) developing a framework for the Office of Student Access and Success (SAS); (2) engaging in intentional data collection; (3) educating the FIU community on high-impact practices; (4) promoting student engagement, specifically among African American students; and (5) engaging faculty in strategies to promote equity in curricular planning. The success of the initiative relied on collaboration between key stakeholders at the university, including the Office of Analysis and Information Management, the Center for Advancement in Teaching, student affairs (e.g., Black Student Union), and academic affairs.

Framework for Student Access and Success

Created in 2014, SAS is responsible for creating access and services for underrepresented minority students. SAS hosts several initiatives funded by Federal TRIO Programs—including undergraduate college access initiatives and several graduate fellowships that are designed to ensure success by providing various support services that promote academic socialization from undergraduate through graduate education. The framework for the SAS mission is guided by Albert Bandura’s (1977) Theory of Socialization and Theory of Self Efficacy. The Theory of Socialization states that there must be “reciprocal interaction between personal, behavioral, and environmental determinants” for an individual to successfully adapt behaviors of their environment. The theory of self-efficacy centers around individuals believing in their ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish tasks (Bandura 1994). These theories, coupled with the commitment of AAC&U and Strada Education Network to using high-impact practices to increase degree completion with a purpose, led us to integrate the development of students’ interpersonal, intrapersonal, and cognitive skills into the curriculum.

Data Collection

Data collection occurred in three ways: institutional data, surveys, and focus groups. Multiple data collection strategies allowed us to triangulate the results. Initial analysis of the data revealed the following:

  • Black students who are experiencing their first time in college (FTIC) tend to have lower high school GPAs than Hispanic or White students. The average high school GPA for Black students is less than 3.0.
  • Fifty percent of FIU’s Black FTIC students live on campus, which is a much higher percentage than other ethnicities.
  • The top three courses that Black FTICs (first-year students who started in fall 2013) are more likely to fail than non-Black FTICs are Principles in Microeconomics; General Biology II; and Pre-Calculus, Algebra, and Trigonometry.

The survey was sent to 2,726 Black students who were enrolled from fall 2012 to fall 2015. The data indicated that an astounding 49.96 percent of the students who responded have never used the services provided by the offices that are central to high-impact practices (University Learning Center, Center for Excellence in Writing, Study Abroad, Center for Leadership). Respondents indicated that they either did not know where to seek help or they knew about the offices but did not engage with them. The focus groups gave us qualitative insight to the awareness of HIPs among African American students and indicated that many students don’t prioritize engagement with HIPs in their undergraduate experience.

The data provided us with actionable items to follow-up with, such as better collaboration with FIU’s STEM Transformation Institute to address the challenges in undergraduate STEM, strengthening our pre-collegiate services, and making better use of assistance from Residential Life.

Awareness Campaign and Student Engagement

Successful outcomes for the project were contingent on a strong awareness campaign that emphasized the vision and mission of SAS and the importance of high-impact practices. Our first step was a complete redesign of the SAS website to define our brand within the context of student success and aligns with the Strada goal of degree “completion with a purpose.” The website’s goal is to communicate the value of high-impact practices and achievement of learning outcomes so that students are better prepared for the workforce or graduate education. We were responsive to students’ lack of knowledge about or engagement with HIPs and to a recent Strada report that indicated a difference of perception between universities and employers on the achievement of competencies necessary to be successful in the workplace.

For our second step, social media was leveraged to communicate a “tip of the month” and monthly student profile to stimulate dialogue in the university community about degree completion with a purpose. The intent was to share positive academic behaviors, thus echoing Bandura’s principles of Social Learning.

Finally, our most successful component of the awareness campaign is the LIVE LEARN GROW personal and professional development series. The intent of this effort is to provide students with the opportunity to engage with university and industry professionals and to share tools for academic success.

Faculty/Staff Engagement

Faculty and staff engagement is critical to the success of these efforts. We dedicated two team members for this purpose. Activities included an analysis in spring 2016 semester of gateway course outcomes, which included demographic breakdowns of students for faculty teams to consider equity in their efforts to redesign courses over the summer. Equity-mindedness training workshops were also provided to faculty, teaching assistants, and first-year experience instructors. A key workshop, “From Diversity to EQUITY: Removing Obstacles to Student Success,” included principles from the Center for Urban Education and AAC&U. A faculty book club was also created to discuss strategies for implementing an equitable curriculum.

Successes and Challenges

As with any complex initiative, there are successes and barriers to success. At FIU, this project has allowed for more collaboration among university stakeholders who engage in the assessment, promotion, and compliance of student success goals. Additionally, it provided stakeholders the opportunity to analyze how to better communicate the value of HIPs and learning outcomes within the framework of equity and student success. The university provides many opportunities for engagement in HIPs, but lack of student participation remains a challenge. While students have a responsibility to take ownership of their own success, it is our responsibility to make sure that we acculturate students to be proactive in their self-efficacy. In conclusion, the initiative is an effective model for universities willing to examine pedagogical and student affairs practices through an equity-minded lens and an examination of how educators engage students in intentional learning so that they obtain “well-being beyond graduation” (Gallup 2015).


Bandura, Albert. 1977. Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Press.

——. 1994. “Self-efficacy.” In Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, 4:71–81. Edited by V. S. Ramachaudran. New York: Academic Press.

Gallup. 2015. Gallup-USA Funds Minority College Graduates Report. Washington, DC: Gallup.

Jaffus Hardrick, Vice Provost, Student Access and Success, and  Sonja Montas-Hunter, Assistant Vice-Provost, Student Access and Success, both of Florida International University

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