The University of Akron marked five years of a scholarship program on Wednesday with a pep rally and the pledge to make it a model for wider student success.
UA officials said the state-funded Choose Ohio First scholarship program for science, technology, engineering and math students has produced high graduation and retention rates that it aims to export to the rest of campus.
“This is the story — that these students are saying, ‘Without this program, I wouldn’t be an engineer, I wouldn’t have gone to medical school,’ ” said Adam Smith, assistant vice president for student success, who oversees the program. “Not only are we graduating folks, we’re graduating the right people in the right stuff.”
Choose Ohio First is a state effort to build the number of graduates in the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and math — to bolster the state’s economy in such fields as aerospace, energy and computer science.
Since the inception of the program in 2008, the state has allocated more than $60 million to more than 5,000 students at 41 Ohio public and private colleges and universities.
In the program’s first five years, UA has received $16 million that it divvied up into scholarships of about $4,500 each. This school year, 620 UA students are receiving $2.1 million.
But UA says it goes further than just funneling money to students. It also provides extra advising, peer mentoring and cultural events — a model it has advised other institutions on how to emulate. The results have been encouraging: a five-year graduation rate of 74 percent, almost double UA’s six-year rate of 40 percent for all first-time, full-time undergraduates.
So Smith’s office also has been given a new task: guiding UA students who might be underprepared for college studies.
Since July 2012, Smith’s office has been in charge of the so-called “emergent” students — those with low ACT scores or grade-point averages. UA has determined that students with ACT test scores of 17 to 20 or with high school grade-point averages of 2.5 to 3.0 need more hand-holding than students with higher scores.
Smith is modeling his program for emergent students on what has worked with Choose Ohio First participants.
“We’re extremely intrusive, and I think that’s a great thing. We’re providing support for students before they ask for it,” he said.
That’s a big task. UA has about 4,000 emergent students this fall, Smith said.
At the pep rally at InfoCision Stadium, Smith told them that they are the “pace car” to show other students how to graduate.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.