Nassim publishes research on ‘Holistic Approach to Helping Minority Students Succeed in College’

NEWPORT, R.I. (Aug. 23, 2016) – Dr. Sami Nassim, director of multicultural programs and retention at Salve Regina University, has published an article, “A Holistic Approach to Helping Minority Students Succeed in College.” His work appears on Rhode Island’s College & University Research Collaborative website at http://www.collaborativeri.org/research/.

“One of the most important challenges in higher education is to close the achievement gap between racial majority and minority students,” Nassim writes. “At non-profit private four-year institutions, the share of white students who graduate within either four or six years is at least 10 percentage points higher than the share of minority students. In Rhode Island, the disparity in graduation rates between white and minority students is even larger.”

Nassim focused his study on research and programs developed at Salve Regina with the hope that the information garnered may hold lessons for other institutions interested in increasing minority student retention and for policy makers seeking to improve the educational attainment and economic status of minorities in the state.

He currently serves as chairman of Salve Regina’s Student Success Committee, which is comprised of staff and faculty from more than 22 departments. Initial committee findings identified which students are at risk of dropping out and why. Racial minorities, first-generation college students from more than 150 miles away, students who receive low levels of merit-based scholarships, students with large financial gaps and students who are less academically prepared from high school topped the at-risk list.

While the university developed prevention measures targeted to engage and retain at-risk students, the committee found that the approach wasn’t completely successful. Further research showed that students do not leave just because they are first-generation, multicultural, or have financial challenges; rather, they leave because of the compound effect of multiple stress factors. Furthermore, the more stress factors students face, the more likely they are to leave, Salve Regina researchers found.

Based on the findings, Salve Regina developed a new model for addressing student retention centered on identifying and responding to the multiple needs of individual students. The process begins with the early identification, before the school year starts, of the seven risk factors outlined above. When new students arrive on campus, they are offered a wide variety of resources and support systems that proactively address potential areas of struggle.

The university is also focusing on improving communication among staff and with students and their families.

Other measures include Salve Regina creating a mentorship program called “Seahawk to Seahawk” that pairs a returning student who was able to successfully adjust personally and academically to Salve Regina with an incoming student who might face some of the same challenges.

The university also created a Multicultural Living Learning Community that provides opportunities for first-generation and multicultural students to live in housing that is welcoming and accepting and can help ease their social transition to campus.

In addition to expanding its resources to support at-risk students, the university developed a system to provide garner information on whether students are struggling and, if so, how the academic community might provide appropriate support in a timely manner. Student progress is tracked over the course of the year through data collection and close personal relationships, both of which are used to quickly identify and address major stress points around academic, financial, social, or psychological issues. This data is gathered and analyzed by The Office of Retention and the Office of Institution Research.

“As a team, staff at Salve Regina have worked to support students holistically and proactively, and the intervention has paid off,” Nassim writes. “The university was able to retain the majority of students who were identified as at-risk based on their progress during the 2013-2014 academic year, especially those who struggled financially, academically, or with social engagement. The overall retention rate for the one-quarter of students who were identified as struggling during their first year was 55 percent. The retention rate for the rest of the class was 93 percent, with minimum intervention from the university since the staff shifted most of their resources to support the 109 struggling students.”