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Student academic success – College Works as a recipe for retention

One-of-a-kind employment-based summer program gives new Roadrunners in need a leg up for access and success.

By Cory Phare

June 7, 2017

A shot of the 2nd floor SSB that says 'Student Academic Success Center'Summer bridge programs are a well-proven way to help students ensure they’re starting their college journeys on solid ground.

MSU Denver participants in the newly expanded College Works Program receive an additional element: on-campus employment to allay fiscal concerns for low-income students.

“The whole premise was asking what the barriers preventing accepted students from attending MSU Denver were,” said Will Mellion, Ph.D., associate director of College Completion. “If you have a job on campus already, it helps remove that fear around whether or not you’ll be able to place into a work-study position for the upcoming semester.”

Started last year as an 11-student pilot partnership between the University and the City and County of Denver, College Works identifies admitted students who meet such criteria as Pell-eligibility, free/reduced lunches and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participation and matches them with summer positions related to their intended areas of study.

The pilot results speak for themselves: Of the 10 students who began the program intending to continue at MSU Denver, nine have currently enrolled in classes for the upcoming fall 2017 semester.

“We’re connecting dollars already there in the counties to provide employment opportunities,” said Lauren Koppel, coordinator of Scholar Success and Leadership. “It’s a pretty entrepreneurial program that helps address equity gaps.”

This year’s iteration has expanded to include 10 students from Adams County and 30 to 50 from Denver.

Throughout the program, students also take part in peer-led college readiness and career development workshops covering resume writing, cover letter construction and mock interviews. The academic and social integrations result from comprehensive student support that integrates the foundational significance of campus-based work.

“Placing students in their areas of interest helps break down barriers,” said Mellion. “If you know someone in the department when you begin, as opposed to further down the road, it can validate your chosen field and ultimately help you succeed.”

Another College Works partner is Goodwill Industries. Long a proponent of job and career development, the organization was a natural mission-based alignment for employment according to Mellion.

And, as Koppel noted, the real result is a pipeline established through access and comprehensive support to ensure transformative opportunities for all students. “It’s unlike any other summer bridge program, because it says, ‘we value your time and contribution, so we’re going to pay you to attend – and succeed,’” he said.

College Works runs June 5 through July 29. For more information, contact Will Mellion or Lauren Koppel.

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