Eastern Illinois University officials were pleased and excited to learn this week that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded the institution a five-year $1.8 million institutional development grant for expanded student support services.
Gratified that nearly two years of dedicated work and planning have been rewarded, Eastern officials now plan to move ahead with implementation of a Student Success Center.
"It really is quite remarkable for an institution to be funded on its first submission of a grant application," said Jeff Cross, associate vice president for academic affairs and project director. "I consider it a tribute to all those who worked on the project, and to the potential for development of a comprehensive support system for students at academic risk on this campus."
According to Cross, the grant will support expansion of facilities and the addition of support services for a Student Success Center. The center's mission, he added, will be to identify those students who are at risk for academic failure and, through intervention and support, improve their success rate.
Eastern prides itself in its abilities to identify and support first-year at-risk students. Students who became at-risk after their first year, however, do not have comparable organized support services.
While there are several excellent student support services (e.g., Academic Support Center, Writing Center, Counseling Center, Academic Services for Student Athletes, etc.), there is no coordinated system to identify continuing students with characteristics that correlate with academic dismissal.
"Eastern has an excellent record of retaining and graduating its students, ranking well above average among regional comprehensive universities by these measures," said Blair Lord, provost and vice president for academic affairs. "As a comprehensive university, however, Eastern's mission includes providing access to higher education for a broad range of students, including a significant number of students with some variability in their academic preparation. Responding to the needs of this broad range of students requires various support services to ensure their success, and this grant will assist the university in moving to the next level in this regard.
"In short, we are good at what we do, but we want to continue to get better. And this grant will help us do so," he added.
A portion of the $1,825,000 Eastern has been awarded will provide for the expansion (approximately 5,000 square feet) of Ninth Street Hall. This space will then be incorporated into the comprehensive Student Success Center, with a focus on the 700 to 900 undergraduate students annually whose academic achievement places them on academic warning.
These students will be required to take a zero-credit intervention course that includes diagnosing specific behaviors inconsistent with academic success and the subsequent referral to appropriate support services.
The grant, awarded under the Department of Education's Strengthening Institutions Program, requires the university to place 20 percent ($73,000) of the annual grant funds into an endowment, matched by institutional contributions, with the proceeds of the endowment dedicated to the on-going support of the project. Additionally, the university has committed to sustaining an additional full-time professional position for student support services after the five-year grant period.
According to Cross, a 21-member local committee, assisted by a planning consultant funded by an earlier-awarded planning grant, prepared the plan/proposal that the Department of Education chose to fund. The two-year planning process included open university forums, site visits to another university, and much discussion and revision.
"It was a well-conceived and well-thought-out proposal," Cross said. "We articulated a documented need that could be effectively addressed by a Title III Institutional Development Grant. Eastern will have significantly enhanced capabilities to support student academic success."