The Boulder Fund’s 2017 investment in College Beyond helped demonstrate that student-driven coaching paired with small, individual-level investments — like book vouchers, meal and gas cards, bus passes, and emergency grants — can close freshman retention gaps between middle-academic, low-income college freshmen and their more affluent peers. In the past three years, we replicated these results while growing our team and expanding our program to serve sophomores and juniors. This year, 76% of our freshmen persisted to a second year at our partner university, and our first 4-year graduation rate, at 22%, is more than three times greater than national and state averages for Pell-eligible students of color. These results challenge narratives about what is possible for our students, but also show that we need to 1) learn and do more to support their persistence, graduation, and career entry, and 2) test whether our model works on other campuses. To meet these needs, we are piloting a 4-year College to Career curriculum focused on building the social and cultural capital necessary for career success, as well as the financial know-how for achieving upward mobility and building generational wealth. With this proposal, we seek funding to complete and evaluate our expanded 4-year model, and to support a one-year pilot on a second partner campus. We believe our model has strong potential for national replication to help address systemic inequities in higher education attainment.
A native of Amite, LA, and a first-generation college graduate, Erin Wheeler earned a B.S. in biology from Southeastern Louisiana University, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in STEM Education from Southern University and A&M College. Erin has worked in higher education retention and success at Louisiana State University, where she led efforts to improve student success in STEM fields, and at Kentucky State University, where she was charged with re-envisioning the student success infrastructure to dramatically improve declining retention and graduation rates. As Assistant Provost for Student Success and Retention at KSU, she led the implementation of a multifaceted strategic plan based on research, high-impact practices and embodied innovation, and supported the institution to increase retention rates from 45% to 68% within two years. As a social entrepreneur, Erin has founded a business, Be Preppy, as well as a non-profit organization serving the Amite area, each of which supports low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color on the journey to college access and completion.