How The College of New Jersey Helps Low-Income Students Persist and Succeed in Science


The College of New Jersey has successfully conducted a program that enabled low-income students to stay in school and eventually succeed in their chosen science programs.

TCNJ's Program to Enhance Retention of Students in Science Trajectories in Biology and Chemistry, or PERSIST, has been helping students from low-income families continue studying and even perform well in academics through a strong support system, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. PERSIST started in 2008 with some funding from the National Science Foundation.

The program provided up to $10,000 in yearly scholarships to students, in addition to giving them faculty advisers, peer mentors, and mandated tutoring and skills workshops.

"They need the guiding, the mentoring, and sometimes the encouragement to succeed," Donald Lovett, a biology professor who helped start and lead the program, said. "And when all of this works, the students often are able to make tremendous leaps and bounds over the four years here to be just as successful as other students."

Students enrolled in the program, called PERSIST Scholars, receive support right from the start of their college life. It begins at the freshman welcome week, where they go into a three-day introductory boot camp.

Then students are given mandatory requirements in order to take advantage of the services included in the program. Such mandatory requirements include:

  • Weekly meetings with a faculty mentor who serves as an academic adviser;
  • Weekly meetings with a peer mentor who provides social support and help in facing non-classroom, non-academic issues;
  • Weekly meetings with an academic tutor, dedicating at least one hour per core science and math course;
  • Attendance in workshops that teach skills such as time management and strategies for studying; and
  • One-on-one meetings with professors for every science or math course enrolled in.

One will notice that these mandatory requirements aren't really different from the best practices done in other schools, said Benny Chan, a chemistry professor who helped start the program. It's just that these practices are done intently.

So far, the program has been successful in helping students from low-income families to continue studying and eventually graduate. Of the first 49 PERSIST Scholars, 40 already graduated or were on their way to graduation. This signifies a persistence rate of 82 percent, which is very high compared to the rates for African American students (49 percent) and Hispanic students (71 percent).

Having seen the program as a success, PERSIST Program leaders didn't apply for a renewed funding anymore. Instead, they are hoping to apply the learning they received from the program to the school.

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