Why Teach for America Is Scrapping Its National Diversity Office

A shakeup at Teach for America, the controversial nonprofit that places recent college graduates in low-income school districts across the country, will eliminate the organization’s Office of the Chief Diversity Officer this fall. The announcement comes amid layoffs that will shrink the national staff about by 15 percent.

Next America: Higher Education

Understanding the opportunity and achievement gaps in U.S. universities
Read more

While Teach for America says the restructuring (first outlined in a blog post published by Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education who has been critical of the program) is an attempt to move the focus from central management to regional operations, the elimination of the diversity office is a particularly surprising turn for an organization that has prided itself on recruiting people of color to become teachers. While critics have blasted TFA for sending ill-prepared young people into schools that educate some of the nation’s neediest students, its ability to put instructors in classrooms who look like and share backgrounds with the nation’s increasingly diverse students has been one of its most-lauded accomplishments.

In 2014, children of color for the first time made up half of all public-school students. Yet a report that same year from the Center for American Progress found that more than 80 percent of the teachers serving them were white. Those figures are a red flag not only because, as the report’s lead author told me at the time, “There are additional benefits to teachers who are diverse and understand diverse backgrounds who can be cultural brokers for students who don’t necessarily have role models in their lives,” but because studies suggest that diversifying the teaching pool would actually boost student performance.

About half of TFA applicants in 2015 identified as people of color, more than half came from low-income backgrounds, and a third were the first in their family to go to college. Figures for the previous year were similar. The organization was able to attract a diverse set of teachers in part because it specifically prioritized adding ethnic and racial minorities to its ranks. Exactly what impact the restructuring will have on the diversity among recruits is unclear, and the organization declined to comment on what will happen to specific personnel, including Irma McClaurin, who heads up the diversity office. But the group said in an emailed statement to The Atlantic, “For us, this work needs to live on every team and in every region with clarity of accountability. This shift will ensure that diversity and inclusiveness is integrated throughout our work and sits squarely with those closest to the work.” As part of that shift, the organization will also eliminate the School Systems Leaders Fellowship, and focus, it said, on “putting more emphasis on building technology solutions that allow us to serve as a connector—making it easier for alumni to have access to and build community amongst each other.”

On the ground, the changes will mean that regional staff have the flexibility to develop culturally relevant practices specific to their location, the organization said, and will increase accountability. Catherine Brown, who currently serves as the vice president of education policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress but previously worked as the vice president of policy at Teach for America, said she thinks the organization’s commitment to diversity “is very deep, very profound.” Brown added, “I don’t see evidence they’re pulling back.” But a letter from Elisa Villanueva Beard, the CEO, to corps members and alumni suggests how and who the organization recruits are very much in flux. “To compete for diverse future leaders in the most competitive and challenging recruitment environment in our history, we’re changing how we recruit,” she wrote. “Our prospect[ive] corps members’ experience will unfold over several years, defined in part by meeting corps members, alumni, and students.” Several people associated with the organization who did not want to be identified worried that the shakeup could undermine the real progress TFA has made on the diversity front, particularly in an area where traditional teaching colleges still struggle.

Teacher diversity has become something of a national focus in recent years. John King, the recently confirmed U.S. education secretary, spoke about the importance of teacher diversity earlier this month during a panel at Howard University that also included Villanueva Beard and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s two main teachers unions. While they often spar over what they think is best for the nation’s students, all agree on the need to increase the number of people of color who pursue a career in teaching. Figuring out how to move the needle on such a complex, multifaceted problem is a long-term challenge. Teacher retention, for example, is a big issue with teachers of color both in and outside of TFA, in part because they tend to end up in resource-starved schools. Any real remedy would have to address school segregation and poverty.

Teach for America has been around for 25 years, and applications dropped for the second year in a row in 2015 following 15 years of growth. So a restructuring is not necessarily a signal of its impending demise. But people who have praised the organization for its attention to the diversity of those it recruits will be watching to see if that particular priority holds under its next iteration.

Obama and the Kids

Updated on March 21, 2016

The moment for many Americans is seared into their memories. More than 71 million people watched election night on network and cable TV on November 4, 2008—the highest-rated election coverage in almost three decades—and nearly a quarter-million crowded into Grant Park in Chicago to await the results with anticipation. That night, a centuries-old taboo was broken, and a new era in U.S. politics was ushered in with Barack Obama’s sweeping triumph. Beyond the political ramifications, America had elected its first black president and the reactions were swift and dramatic.

Black Americans turned out to vote in unprecedented numbers, galvanized by the historic quality of a presidential race that could possibly put a black family in the White House. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a civil-rights-movement icon who protested with Martin Luther King, thought of the slain leader as Obama’s first win became clear. As Lewis told NPR the next day, “I felt like shouting, but I just said, ‘Hallelujah, hallelujah,’ ‘cause I knew Martin Luther King himself was looking down on us saying, ‘Hallelujah.’”

The worldwide response was equally jubilant. Obama’s election was seen as a remarkable shift signaling a more inclusive America. Even outgoing president George Bush commended the president-elect on the significance of his victory, noting that Obama represented “a triumph of the American story … Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day.”

Obama’s electoral landslide was momentous for many because of what it represented about America’s past, burdened by centuries of slavery, segregation, and racial prejudice. Yet for an entire segment of the public without that frame of reference—namely, pre-adolescents who came of age over the last eight years—the Obama presidency is still groundbreaking. I recently gathered a racially and ethnically diverse group of students from Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring, Maryland, to discuss the first black U.S. president and to get their take on whether Obama has changed this generation’s views of the country’s possibilities or shaped their own aspirations.

Melinda D. Anderson: In 2008, when he was elected, there was a lot written about President Obama being the first black president. What does it mean to you that America elected a black man to be its president?

Josh Frost, 13: It shows we can change, because it shows that not only white people can be in the government. More people of different races would like to be president now, because Barack Obama became president. Before there were only white presidents, so they probably thought they had to be like them to do the job.

Avi Kedia, 12: It shows something [about] America, that somebody from a different race, other than white, can win the presidential election. We shouldn’t base the presidents just on race, we should base it on their actual skill. But it shows that somebody from a different race can rise up and go against what everybody else says and win. I could be president if I really wanted to. I just have to push myself. And it doesn’t matter if I’m Indian. It opens the door for everything really. If someone black can be president after it forever being white presidents, maybe a woman can be president. Or we can have a gay president. None of that even matters anymore.

Obama’s Controversial Higher-Ed Legacy

Anderson: When you think about the fact that a black family now lives in the White House, does it change your view of what is possible in this country?

Clare Doyle, 13: My first memory of Barack Obama is my dad telling me that the first African American was going to be the [Democratic nominee] for president. That’s progress. We didn’t discriminate by race; he was judged by his ability. We used to think that just because someone was a different color, that they were [inferior], but his election shows we can all be judged the same. Instead of doing it by race.

Obama and Kids” where people shared pictures of President Obama with children around the country, to illustrate how kids seem to connect to him. Do you feel connected to this president at all?

Kedia: He’s like your average type of guy. He’s not like a politician, someone with a white wig or something. He’s the only president we’ve ever known—and all of those kids grew up with him. So that’s the person they look up to.

Doyle: He seems more laid back like normal people, because he’s always outside playing with his daughters or playing basketball when he’s not working. He’s more like someone we could talk to or someone we would want to meet.

Ramirez: We feel more connected to him because we’ve grown up with him. It’s like having a family member that you don’t really meet. I found it funny that kids go to the White House for trick-or-treating. Michelle Obama has had sleepovers [with Girl Scouts]. Because normally when you think of the White House you think of a big mansion or something, but what I actually think of is a regular house where you’d be lucky to meet one of your unknown family members, and you get the feeling that they’re actually going to welcome you.

Anderson: We’re currently in the middle of an election season to decide who will be the next president. President Obama’s term is ending—he now has about 10 months left in office. Does it stir up any thoughts or emotions knowing that his term is winding down?

Frost: I don’t know what to expect with a white president or a woman president. He’s the only president we remember. The biggest impact that he had wasn’t any laws he passed or anything like that. It was just being president. He brought a new race to [the nation’s highest office.]

Kedia: On a more personal level, I wonder what he’s going to do … what about his kids … what about his wife. I think about that every single day for some reason. It’s kind of weird. He’s all we know. What if the next president isn’t like that? It’s going to be really odd if [the new president] is in the office the entire day and never outside playing basketball or with kids. That would mostly be a negative in my mind.

really racist to other countries.

Doyle: Adding to what Josh said, Barack Obama [re-established] a relationship with Cuba. If we have a president who doesn’t like a certain race, then he could destroy those relationships. We could ruin something that was there.

Ramirez: [Obama’s] personality made him very open with people … I would feel uncomfortable if the new president isn’t as open as he was. Someone who’s social, a good father who spends time with his family … someone who makes the president’s life seem like a regular life.

Kedia: Before Obama, it’s like there was some sort of barrier, and everybody was stuck under it. Only certain people could get through that barrier. When Obama became president, suddenly people thought, “Oh, the barrier is gone. Now we can climb.” That’s what his presidency meant to me. It’s like I have a chance now.

The Rise of Liberal Arts in Hong Kong

HONG KONG—The businessman Po Chung might seem an unlikely advocate for the virtues of a U.S.-style liberal education. As the cofounder of the Asia Pacific branch of the shipping giant DHL, Chung is an entrepreneur who grew up poor and whose success is emblematic of the former colony’s hard-driving capitalist culture.

But he’s also one of the leading advocates for adding a big dose of humanities and social sciences to the curriculum of Hong Kong’s universities.

Chung and other backers of an unprecedented three-year-old curriculum-reform effort are determined to steer the city’s eight universities away from the rote learning, test obsession, and narrow career focus that still characterize much of the Asian education system. They think it’s past time for colleges to introduce a broader range of subjects, to promote greater intellectual curiosity, and to foster creative thinking. And they’re convinced that these changes will, in turn, build a workforce of rigorous, creative thinkers—just what they think is needed to meet the fast-changing needs of a transforming global economy.

The Hechinger Report

To one degree or another, this kind of liberal-arts approach has long been a distinctive feature of American colleges and universities. In fact, U.S. undergraduate education is the explicit model for Hong Kong’s liberal-education campaign. A cadre of U.S. Fulbright scholars was even imported to implement the plan.

Hong Kong and some other Asian countries are embracing everything from art history to sociology as necessary components of undergraduate coursework. However, the United States seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

With the rising cost of tuition, mounting student debt, and students and parents worried about the prospect of post-graduation unemployment or underemployment, many Americans are thinking of higher education in increasingly utilitarian terms. The proportion of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in humanities disciplines has dropped to 6 percent from its peak of 17 percent in 1968.

Hong Kongers certainly care about the practical considerations, too. But for Chung, who spent part of his undergraduate career at Whittier College, a liberal-arts school in Southern California, producing the responsible, economically productive citizens Hong Kong needs goes hand in hand with the habits of minds inculcated by the liberal arts. General education, one of the terms Hong Kong uses for its new offerings, produces graduates “who are critical and creative thinkers, problem solvers, gifted communicators, team managers, and ethical leaders,” Chung wrote in a South China Morning Post op-ed. Add those qualities to the “creative communities of innovation” built by the liberal arts, he argued, and the result is pragmatic: skills “for which employers are willing to pay the highest salaries.”

The Americans Who Inspired Hong Kong’s Protesters

Given autonomy over how they put the changes into action, most institutions opted for pick-and-choose distribution requirements across about five categories, such as humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, China studies, and “global issues.” The Chinese University of Hong Kong, however, required some specific classes—a core-curriculum requirement akin to the University of Chicago’s Great Books sequence. Nearly one-third of the undergraduate coursework at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (or HKUST) is made of a core liberal-arts curriculum. The chance to take classes in a wide range of fields holds enormous appeal for students like Sivaraam “Shiv” Muthukumar, a fourth-year HKUST undergraduate studying mechanical engineering and business management. “I do not know what I’m going to do after university, but I do know what I want to become,” Muthukumar says. “I’ve always had in mind that I wanted to be a Renaissance man.”

But implementing an educational approach that departed so much from the status quo was complicated. Chung himself put up a matching donation of $1 million—supplemented by government and university funds—to bring in a group of 24 American Fulbright scholars to help. The rationale was that the Fulbrights, many of them faculty at U.S. universities, had the on-the-ground skills needed to consult with traditional research universities and help them make the transition to a more liberal-arts-oriented model.

“It’s all about talent,” said Glenn Shive, a U.S. expat who administered the Fulbright program as head of the Hong Kong-America Center and is now vice president for programs at the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.

Universities had been producing memorizers with narrow, career-focused training, rather than the entrepreneurial problem-solvers the business sector wants, Shive said. In contrast, he said, Asian students who have studied in the United States learn to think “beyond the conventional wisdom,” which is why the U.S. liberal-arts model has growing appeal.

While advocates remain optimistic, there’s no consensus yet about how successful the experiment has been. The reform has never extended to the creation of freestanding U.S.-style liberal arts colleges in the mold of Amherst or Reed. Instead, the focus has been on the two other components of liberal education: curricula that broaden students’ intellectual horizons and interactive teaching methods that give them the tools to become rigorous and creative thinkers.

Approaches are vast and varied. Students at the Chinese University, for example, study Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as part of the mandatory core curriculum, while undergraduates at the University of Hong Kong have the option of enrolling in classes like “The Press, the Public, and the Public Sphere,” in partial fulfillment of the humanities distribution requirement, one of four “areas of inquiry.”

The Hechinger Report.

Unequal Discipline at Charter Schools


A new report has charter-school advocates crying foul and their opponents cheering. In the process, the broader point that some schools have seriously questionable student-discipline practices is being lost in the crossfire. This isn’t exactly surprising. Nothing sparks an uproar in education like a charter-school debate, but it’s worth taking a step back to focus on what’s actually going on.

The report, published by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, examines for the first time how charter schools across the country administer discipline. The authors found that black students and children with disabilities are disproportionately more likely to be suspended than their white and non-disabled charter-school peers. Charter opponents glommed onto the findings as evidence that charters are bad, while proponents played defense by saying that the disparities exist in traditional public schools. This is true. The report’s authors don’t deny this.

The report stems from the fact that since charters took off two decades ago, this is the first time they’ve had to report discipline data to the federal government. Using figures from the 2011-12 academic year, the latest year for which there is nationwide data, the report finds that almost half of black charter students at the secondary level attended one of 270 charters that were both largely segregated (at least 80 percent black students) and where the aggregate black suspension rate was 25 percent. The authors also note that 235 charter schools suspended at least half of their students with disabilities.

The disparity, argues Daniel Losen, the director of the center and the lead author of the report, is the real problem. “This is a matter of civil rights,” he said. Losen is worried that charter networks like Success Academies, which has touted its strict discipline practices, are driving the conversation about what discipline in charter schools should look like and making it harder for charters that support concepts such as restorative justice (the practice of using mediation and dialogue to resolve issues instead of suspensions) to gain a foothold. While there are certainly restorative-justice critics, particularly where training in how to administer the concept has been piecemeal, proponents, including Losen, argue it can help reduce racial disparities in suspension rates. Studies suggest that kids who are suspended, especially repeatedly, are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to end up in jail, and less likely to find meaningful employment. “As taxpayers,” Losen said, “we should also be concerned, because zero tolerance has a real economic cost.”

The authors also express concern that some charter schools are dissuading children with disabilities from enrolling, which may contribute to the high marks some zero-tolerance schools report. Nationally, charters enroll a lower percentage of kids with disabilities than traditional public schools. Success Academy, New York City’s largest network of charter schools, was criticized last year when a “Got to Go” list created by one of its schools of children it wanted to leave came to light and raised questions about whether some charters succeed by pushing some students away. While private schools have the option to limit who they enroll, charters, the authors argue, should not be permitted to discourage certain students from enrolling.

Every Student Succeeds Act, the United States’s federal education law, some have the option to exempt charters from certain requirements. The report urges states not to do this, and argues that charters, which are publicly funded but privately run, are in a unique position to reform how they administer school discipline because there are fewer political barriers standing in their way. “There is no reason why charter schools cannot help to establish best practices that could, in turn, inform all public schools,” the authors write. “Whether or not charters become leaders in this area, applying federal law to charter schools will mean that, if a more effective approach than zero tolerance can be found, charter schools, like non-charters, are obligated to adopt the change.”

While the report doesn’t go into detail about specific schools that have adopted less punitive discipline measures, it finds that more charter schools at the elementary level have low suspension rates than high suspension rates. A separate study out of Stanford University last year suggested that charters in some states do a better job than traditional public schools of educating English-language learners. “There is this huge contrast and it’s not like all charters are higher suspending,” Losen said. The issue, he argues, is a lack of transparency. “If you have choice, you have to have information,” he said. “Some parents might not be so eager to send their kids if they knew.”

The report comes as charter-school advocates push to enact state laws that allow these schools to operate. As the Hamilton Project notes, 41 states had at least one charter school last year. But court battles in Washington and other states have thrust some charter schools and their students into limbo over questions about how the schools are funded and run. Charter proponents have criticized several aspects of the report, alleging in part that the use of 2011-12 data does not provide an accurate picture of how charters discipline students now. This may be the case for some states, but more recent state-level data indicates that disparities in suspension rates are still a reality.

Regardless, it’s a fight with no clear end, and this latest report serves as new fodder for both sides. The problem is that the most important point, that black children and those with disabilities are suspended from school at disproportionately high rates, is lost in the clatter.

The Value of Using Podcasts in Class

Two years ago, I was practically begging a student to read a novel in my high-school English class. This isn’t an unusual problem. The girl, who’s a relatively bright, college-bound athlete, told me that she “just gets too distracted after five minutes” of reading. When she promised that she would listen to the audiobook of the novel on the team bus that afternoon, I was less than enthused. “Reading is like getting in physical shape,” I told her. “This time, try to read for seven minutes and then take a break.” But a few minutes later, I could see she had spaced out again. I considered the implausibility of students such as her reading the novel for homework, outside my quiet classroom.

In contrast, I recently discovered my students voluntarily reading a story together, all at the same time. And they were inspired by an unlikely medium—podcasts—which is obviously ironic, as many people like podcasts precisely because they don’t have the time or inclination to sit down and read. In fact, Serial has an explicit warning at the beginning of their transcripts: “Serial is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read.” Of course, teenagers are infamous for enjoying exactly what they’re told not to do, but I was nevertheless surprised that while listening to an episode of Serial in class, their collective eyes fixed on the transcripts displayed on a screen at the front of the room. And I was startled—happily so—by their shouts when I was tardy in scrolling down.

I already knew that my students enjoyed listening to contemporary podcasts in class, and I’ve found value in using them as primary texts. In a unit on racial bias, my students were visibly moved by a This American Life episode called “Is This Working?” To learn about slander, libel, and defamation, they loved listening to Bill Simmons’s rant that led to his suspension from ESPN. And we studied the first season of Serial for a variety of reasons, most of them related to critical thinking, listening comprehension, and the art of storytelling. While I felt guilty the students weren’t reading very much during this unit, their engagement with a relevant and timely story—their eagerness to ask questions, their intrinsic motivation to use critical thinking—seemed to make it worth it, at least temporarily. The students voluntarily studied maps, evaluated clues, argued with each other, and wrote twice as much in their journals as they previously had. Perhaps most satisfying to me, they were engaging in adult conversations with teachers, parents, and administrators who were listening to the same podcast.

I also already knew that podcasts, whose popularity continues to grow—one in five Americans listened to a podcast in the last month—were catching on in other classrooms across the country. MindShift’s Linda Flanagan has written a series of articles about students listening to and creating their own podcasts, and Edutopia has listed “8 Podcasts for Learning.” TeachersPayTeachers.com, an online marketplace for lesson plans, reports that annual downloads of lessons based on podcasts increased by 21 percent in 2014—and then 650 percent in 2015 (the year after Serial launched).

What I know now is that high-schoolers—at least my students—like reading and simultaneously listening to podcasts even more. Although many observers attribute the growth of podcasts to recent technological advancements in production and access, relatively little is said about the latest in voice transcription. Unlike the first season, Serial’s second season features almost perfectly accurate transcripts of each episode. I knew it would be a bonus to my lessons this year; I didn’t know it would be a game-changer. I turned off the lights, projected the words, and told them, “Here’s the script in case that helps anyone.” It apparently helped everyone. They all turned their heads, and some of them shifted their desks.

Apparently there were teachers who were at least a year ahead of me with this discovery. Rich Hovey, who teaches English to at-risk high school students at the Grizzly Youth Academy, recently told me that he let his students voluntarily read along with Season 1 of Serial using transcripts found on Reddit, and they jumped on the opportunity. “It was thrilling,” Hovey said, “to watch them so focused on their reading, excitedly scrolling down on their Chromebooks.”

Earlier this week, I asked each of my own students to write down what they’d honestly like to do for the rest of the semester: read a good book together, listen to another podcast, or listen to a podcast with the words on the screen. Sixty-two voted for the latter, while just two voted for podcasts alone, and one for reading alone.

The reasons were as varied as they were compelling. Many of them said that reading along with the audio helped with their focus and kept them from “spacing out” while listening. Others, paradoxically, wrote that they were able to multi-task—they could take notes or write on their worksheets and could keep up with the story even with their eyes off the screen. Some explicitly recognized that they could look back and re-read something they didn’t understand when they first heard it; others said they read slightly ahead and then could write down a quote while they listened to it. A student with eyesight problems said he appreciates the ability to take reading breaks without stopping his enjoyment of the story. A few students learning English as a second language wrote that they like how they can read the words and—as one student put it—promptly “hear how they’re supposed to sound.”

Inside the Podcast Brain: Why Do Audio Stories Captivate?

In an Atlantic piece about “the podcast brain,” the writer Tiffanie Wen quoted Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, as saying that “listening, unlike looking at a written page, is more active, since the brain has to process the information at the pace it is played.” My student Roberto offered similar insight: “I think it helps me out with my reading since I have to keep a pace up.”

I shouldn’t be surprised they like the transcripts. Ever since my 5-year-old daughter learned the advanced functions on the remote control, she intentionally puts closed captions on her cartoons. My students—particularly those who are learning English as a second language—enjoy a similar motivation to master new words, albeit at a much higher level. Jose Aguilar wrote that the podcast-transcript combination is “so much better than reading because it allows me to read the right pronunciation of the spelling.” His classmate Jon Rios reads the transcripts because, in his words, “It is so helpful, both hearing and seeing the words, so I can kind of know where I’m at.”

A similar situation in India was observed on a much larger scale when—starting in 1999—certain networks started supplementing some of their television shows with “Same Language Subtitling” (SLS), and the country’s literacy rates soared. The Boston Globe reported on the phenomenon in 2010, claiming that “in the last nine years, functional literacy in areas with SLS access has more than doubled. And the subtitles have acted as a catalyst to quadruple the rate at which completely illiterate adults become proficient readers.”

According to a study on the SLS project by the academic and social entrepreneur Brij Kothari and others at Stanford University that was published by MIT, limited exposure to SLS within a telecast period of six months was “found to make an incremental but measurable contribution to decoding skills … The potential for SLS in India and other countries is enormous.” Kothari’s project was ambitious, but the results weren’t anomalous. For example, a study at the University of Nottingham concerning the processing of native and foreign language through subtitles concluded that “Many vocabulary-learning studies seem to confirm that having both written and aural form of a word facilitates learning.”

Drawing conclusions that sounded very similar to my own students’ reflections, the SLS study found that “one’s ability to anticipate the lyrics,” combined with immediate validation through the audio, cultivated “a steady stream of successful reading events”—presumably scenarios in which students read with accuracy and enjoyment. In this way, the SLS contributed to “a nonthreatening reading environment in which to embark upon, confirm, practice, and enjoy one’s developing reading skills.”

The study also noted that the low cost of subtitling television shows is “attractive”—and again, I feel the same way in my own classroom. Two years ago, my English department worked for months to convince the district to buy hundreds of copies of a nonfiction anthology for tens of thousands of dollars. For two seasons’ worth of Serial, including maps, photos, and links to supplementary articles, a teacher simply goes to the website and presses “play.”

Though the similarities with the SLS project are inspiring, I’m not ready to incorporate subtitled movies or television shows. From my perspective, they’re simply not as textually dense; and from the students’ perspective, they’re frankly not as interesting. When I showed Twelve Angry Men and even an episode of Making a Murderer (which has some subtitles) to my criminal-justice class, they were visibly nonplussed, and openly asked for a return to something like Serial.

Again, this could be expected. In the same aforementioned Atlantic article, Rodero explained: “Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production … and that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.” Or, as one of my students put it, “listening to the words puts the visualization in my head.”

Audiobooks, too, seem to fall short of the podcast’s value in the classroom for a variety of reasons. One, from my experience there are few things more soporific to a teenager than listening to a singular narrator read a classically told story. Even an Edgar Allan Poe tale near Halloween fails to captivate, which used to surprise me. Wen cites Rodero’s study that shows a story told through dialogue “stimulates listeners’ attention” more than a traditional narration. Also, as The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance recognizes in her analysis of Serial’s “fandom,” the listener can participate in many contemporary podcasts rather than feel like a novel is being read to them.

It should almost be remarked that podcasts are, as Kevin Roose explained in New York Magazine, experiencing a renaissance at least partly because they’re “simply better” than they used to be. And in the Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Alter points out that today’s authors are realizing that “writing for audio requires different techniques,” which they’re utilizing. Take Serial, for example: Sarah Koenig’s first-person narration never goes very long without the infusion of somebody else’s voice, very subtle music, slight shifts in volume, and transitions from a formal to conversational style.

And while entertainment writers are gushing about podcasts, educational scholars are excited about the latest findings concerning listening comprehension—and its correlation with literacy. In a 2014 article published in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Tiffany P. Hogan and others review the significant amount of research that indicates that “listening comprehension becomes the dominating influence on reading comprehension,” especially as children grow older. In short, word recognition, or decoding, is the most crucial skill for very young or beginning students of English, but as decoding becomes more automatized and texts become more complex, listening comprehension becomes the primary component for learning language. Podcasts offer an opportunity for students to practice their listening comprehension of complex texts that are both conversational and formal, and the corresponding scripts give the student the chance to confirm their comprehension.

Podcasts can also aid in teaching the craft of storytelling—again, Serial is a great example (and perhaps even exceptional—by no means are all podcasts written and produced with the same level of quality). As LaFrance points out, Sarah Koenig has a tendency to explain why she’s withholding secrets, to foreshadow later parts of the story, and even to muse about what she should publicly publish and what should stay private. In Season 2, she explicitly cites the children’s book Zoom as the model structure for her story, discusses her sources, and even asks the narrative’s “characters” what they think of the reporting so far. For obvious reasons, Koenig’s self-conscious literary reflections are invaluable in an English class full of kids learning to write, as the students get the sense that the author guiding them through the creative process.

With that said, not everyone is impressed with the idea of audio replacing or supplementing books. Speaking for many traditional bibliophiles, CityLab’s Eric Jaffe writes that “the very freedom granted by audio books—inviting the eyes to wander, and then the mind—may make them less intellectually interchangeable with printed ones.” To be fair, he’s writing about audiobooks, but the Frontiers in Psychology study he cites does explicitly call out podcasts: “While listening to an audiobook or podcast may seem to be a convenient and appealing option, our findings suggest that it might be the least beneficial to learning, leading to both higher rates of mind wandering and less interest in the material.” Here, too, however, the study’s authors neglect the possibility of reading the podcast, and for good reason—not very many people outside a classroom would even consider the possibility.

Perhaps another reason the podcast transcripts have been routinely ignored is because they’re so new—even newer than Serial itself (or at least Season 1). Rather than leaving the transcription responsibilities to sites like Reddit as they did in the first season, Serial is now publishing its own within a week of each episode. Educational sites and other podcasts are also catching on. Listen Current, for example, a education website that curates “the best of public radio,” includes the transcripts for their audio clips—along with lesson plans that particularly focus on EL students. This American Life has transcripts of all their shows, as does Freakonomics.

Students like Melissa, who says “I like to listen to story better, but I have to be able to read it at the same time,” are now asking for these aforementioned “successful reading events” with enthusiasm. And there’s hope that while the podcast revolution won’t be televised, it may be transcripted.

What College Presidents Think About Racial Conflict on Their Campuses

Universities are under increasing pressure to make the racial climate of their campuses a focus, a fact college presidents are beginning to recognize and act upon.

“I know from talking to them that they’re struggling with this,” said Lorelle Espinosa, the assistant vice president for the American Council on Education’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy, which surveyed 567 college and university presidents. “But they’re actually acting,” she added, pointing to the fact that about a third have taken steps to revise or develop new curriculum, a time-consuming and arduous process.

The survey, conducted online in mid-January and released this month, found that about half of those who lead four-year schools say students have organized around concerns about racial diversity, but a quarter also say that community dialogue has remained about the same, even in the face of high-profile events such as those tied to the Black Lives Matter movement. Around 40 percent said dialogue has increased across campus.

Engagement appears to be lower at two-year schools, where just 13 percent of the presidents surveyed said concerns about racial diversity have prompted students to organize. Four in ten said dialogue remained the same in the face of high-profile events, while just 31 percent said it had increased across campus.

The discrepancy between four-year and two-year schools likely has to do with the fact that fewer of the two-year schools are residential, and are more likely to enroll older students who are working or who have children and other obligations that make organizing and participating in protests or campus discussions more difficult. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the average community college student is 29, and two-thirds attend part-time. These schools also generally enroll a higher percentage of African American and Latino students than four-year schools.

But older, more demographically diverse students will make up a growing portion of four-year colleges in the coming years, too. The Education Department predicts that the number of college students over age 25 will rise faster than for those under 25 (20 percent compared to 12 percent) between 2012 and 2023. Ultimately, the profile of a typical college student is shifting, meaning college leaders are or will soon be serving a population that expresses a more varied set of views and desires than has historically been the case. The idea of the Ivory Tower is not only undesirable; it’s also untenable.

This is especially true at St. Louis Community College’s Florissant Valley campus, which sits just a few miles from Ferguson, Missouri, the largely African American city that erupted in protest after a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, a black teenager. Race is an ongoing topic of discussion at the school, which mostly serves students of color, said Ruby Curry, the school’s interim president. “We’re so close to the center of things,” she said. “Instead of students protesting, we had faculty-facilitated listening circles, which allow students to express concerns.” The school also brought in law enforcement and community members to speak with students.

While Curry said her students are mostly commuters who lived in the Ferguson area and saw campus more as a safe haven and less as a place to protest, the lack of campus protests likely also has to do with the fact that the school has been trying to increase the diversity of its faculty and is undertaking an analysis of where its policies and practices might disadvantage people of color. “It’s the curriculum, it’s the attitude, just looking at it as a broad spectrum,” Curry said. In other words, she’s acting with the knowledge that recent protests and demonstrations aren’t isolated incidents, but manifestations of a broader debate over racial equality and access to resources, educational and otherwise.

Anonymous comments from presidents surveyed also reveal that they are, at the very least, generally aware that the nation’s college students are an increasingly diverse group. “Our typical student is an urban young man of color. Faculty and other staff are mostly white and middle class. I’d like greater consciousness among staff and more dialogue in the community about race,” wrote one. “The national issues have manifested at my campus as a genuine focus on eliminating the disparity in student academic achievement by ethnicity and on being more proactive in diversifying the faculty,” said another. “Staying in close touch with those I serve is critically important. I use face-to-face meetings of various sizes, open forums, social media, and regular written messages to the campus. Maintaining a healthy campus climate where everything thrives requires hard work and openness to diverse perspectives every day,” added a third.

The majority of presidents say they have met with student organizers on more than one occasion. Three quarters of the schools surveyed have taken steps to increase diversity among students, faculty, and staff. Most have implemented some form of diversity or cultural-competency training, and devoted resources toward minority student support services. But few of the presidents surveyed said they have plans to further change policies or procedures in the future. And fewer than half “strongly agree” that their faculty, staff, and governing board “have an awareness or sensitivity to the need for racial diversity and inclusion.”

Jia Ireland, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Michigan’s Flint satellite campus who serves as the historian for the Black Student Union, said her school’s administration has attended rallies to show support for students, but she’s frustrated by what she sees as a slow process of implementing campus-wide changes (a social justice and cultural center aimed at students of color was created after a 2014 push by the black student union, she said, but still operates with an interim director). “We talk about being inclusive,” she said, “but you’re still dealing with microaggressions and racism on campus and in the community.” And, she added, the Flint campus feels somewhat disconnected from the main Ann Arbor campus, where the president’s office is located.

“Staff in the Intercultural Center as well as the Women’s and LGBT Center are conducting campus climate surveys and collecting data on the student, staff, and faculty experience with an eye towards becoming an innovative center in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” the school’s chancellor, Susan Borrego, said in a statement. “There is also the new addition of the Women’s Commission and Diversity Council, both advising the chancellor directly on issues related to systemic and cultural chance. We are also proud that our first chief officer for campus inclusion was appointed this year.”

Black Lives Matter activists, Muslim student associations, LGBT groups, and others have argued that any recent shifts toward greater inclusion are too slow and too limited. But it’s worth noting that deciding how to engage and what to change is a complicated debate for college presidents, who are tasked with serving students, but also representing alumni, and, particularly for public universities, lobbying lawmakers and business leaders. David DePriest, an 18-year-old freshman from Kansas City, Missouri, at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said his professors have incorporated discussions about Black Lives Matter into classes. Some faculty members, he said, have even joined students at marches or encouraged voter registration drives. And, in part because of its status as a historically black school, conversations have been campus-wide, not siloed as they have been on some other campuses. But he said he feels that the president and the Board of Trustees have been “pretty silent.”

“There is a recognition that this is a national problem,” DePriest said, “but in terms of supporting more homegrown grassroots organizations or groups, there has been a bit of a disconnect.” The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Espinosa said it’s true that “presidents face a number of pressures from external constituents and have to think about all of the players they need to respond to and represent.” But she said it’s also plausible that others are delegating, or taking longer to share their thoughts than students who want immediate action would like. “They turn to other members of their senior administration, who turn to other staff,” she said. “The role of a president is to create space for people in their administration and staff for dialogue by outwardly talking about diversity and inclusion as a priority.”

Campus Politics: A Cheat Sheet

Rooting out entrenched racism is a monumental task, and not something a college president can facilitate overnight. What students are really asking for is not only recognition of individual wrongs or specific problems, but an understanding from their schools that those issues are manifestations of deeper, systemic inequities. Ireland pointed to the lack of tenured professors of color on campus as a striking example.

There are also inequities that begin in elementary school or earlier that have impacts into college and beyond, with students of color more likely to attend high-poverty K-12 schools with fewer resources and qualified teachers, which can make succeeding in college more of a challenge than it is for kids from wealthier backgrounds. A survey of first-year college students found that white students are more likely than their black peers to feel both academically and emotionally prepared for college. Black students are more likely to say college is not “living up to their expectations,” and, troublingly, they are more likely to keep their feelings to themselves, which may indicate they don’t feel like school is a safe, welcoming space where they can be open.

While students like DePriest and Ireland would like to see change happen faster, Espinosa sees the survey results as a sign that college presidents are becoming more aware of the importance of campus racial climate, and, more importantly, expressing a widespread commitment to addressing it. “This is not going away,” she said.

Why Go to a School That Rejects Who You Love?

What your readers convey regarding the silence and confusion around LGBT issues is absolutely accurate. The worst part is that as a shy 18 year old desperate to fit in with the school culture, I was traveling alone. I did not know how far I could go before putting my education and livelihood in jeopardy. Could I attend pride or wear a rainbow bracelet? Could I write about and talk about my experiences in class, in front of my professors? Could I come out to my RA? My friends? Even more than disciplinary action, I feared social rejection.

It was painful enough losing friends when I came out. More painful than the once friendly acquaintances who avoided eye contact when I walked by, were the friends who provided their hesitant “non-judgment” but then spoke in hushed tones whenever I brought up a romantic interest or spoke of my struggles coming out to my family. I was the subject of prayer meetings I wasn’t even aware of, and of conversations between roommates who weren’t comfortable living with me anymore.

It was painful enough being turned away from counseling services when I said that I was in a same-sex relationship and didn’t view it it as a sin, or sitting through mandatory chapel services of “ex-gays” who said I needed to pray about my sexuality (as if I hadn’t spent night after night crying myself to sleep and begging for God to change me).

But the most painful thing, what I heard from fellow students at a school whose motto is “we believe you belong here,” and what people say over and over in the comments section of articles like these, is “why go to a college that doesn’t accept you?”

As someone who grew up in a Baptist church, who never missed youth group, who considered faith the most important part of her life, and wanted to attend a school that shared those values, it hurts to hear “why did you even come here?” As a bright student who wanted to be a music teacher and received a life changing scholarship to a school with a great music program, it hurts to hear “why did you even come here?”

But even more, as a kid who didn’t yet fully understand or reconcile my sexuality and just wanted to figure out what God wanted for me, who wanted to make my parents happy, it hurts that people can’t understand why a gay kid would end up at a school like Olivet.

Students don’t choose where to go to college based on their sexual orientation. A number of factors influence this choice including location of the school, programs the school offers, great sports team, cost of tuition, opinions of ones family who are often funding the education, extracurricular activities, and so forth. For some including myself, a faith-based education is the only one their parents will financially support. To say “why would you even come here?” is simply petty and unfair, and it refuses to confront the real issues  that LGBT students face at Christian colleges.

‘So Many of the Celibate Gay Christians Are Cruel’

Most gay students here either try dating members of the opposite sex, believing that they’ve fixed themselves, or they commit their lives to celibacy. Also, I don’t think you can underestimated the roles of local churches in this forced celibacy, as many of us would lose our church memberships that we’ve had for all our lives if we came out in favor of same-sex relationships. (And forget leadership roles.)

Many of the celibate gay Christians I know claim that they freely choose the celibate life because it most correctly reflects God’s purpose, but as someone who grew up in that environment, I know that they simply don’t want to lose their church, their friends, their family, and potential career. No “free choice” involves losing all of those things.

I am thankful that I took the plunge, because I’ve been with the woman of my dreams for two years and couldn’t be more fulfilled with her. But so many of the celibate gay Christians are cruel to us. I can only guess that this is because they are so scared of being grouped in with us “sinners,” they want to put as much distance between us as possible. I’ve seen them point at us, and many of them won’t speak to us, even separately. Sometimes I feel like a total freak, but I have to remind myself to feel sorry for them, because they are simply desperate to have a normal family, a normal life, while everyone around them is saying they can’t have that unless they “pray away the gay.”

This also encourages a culture of secrecy, wherein many of the gay people in opposite-gender relationships simply turn to Grindr or Tinder for sexual fulfillment. There are several people in seemingly blissful relationships whom I know for certain use those sites to hookup.

To the faculty’s credit, most of them are more accepting than the Southern Baptist Convention would prefer, and this is why I have not transferred. As a graduate student, I hope to set a good example of a woman who enjoys a Christ-centered relationship with another woman. Since the closeted or celibate gay Christians will not speak to me, I can only hope that they notice that my girlfriend and I are not the evil, broken, God-hating liberals that they are told we are.

I apologize for the long-windedness of this story, but I wanted to provide a fuller picture than I thought the original article presented. I think many straight people, or liberal people, or people from Northern areas really have no idea just how many gay Christians still enter straight relationships as late as 2016, or how limited our rights are on Christian campuses.

What the Candidates Get Wrong About Charter Schools

At the Democratic Town Hall on Sunday night in Columbus, Ohio, Senator Bernie Sanders was asked whether he supported charter schools. The Democratic presidential candidate’s answer—imprecise at best—set off a flurry of responses in the Twittersphere, if not the audience at the CNN broadcast.

“I believe in public education, and I believe in public charter schools,” Sanders said to applause. “I do not believe in private—privately controlled charter schools.”

The University of Michigan professor Susan Dynarski, whose research includes a close focus on school choice, was quick to chime in:

Even veteran reporters weren’t clear on Sanders’s intent, but were reluctant to speculate:

Here are the facts: More than 40 states allow charter schools, which are publicly funded campuses that are supposed to operate more independently than traditional public schools when it comes to staffing, scheduling, and programming. (In some states, charter-school governing boards are allowed to hire for-profit companies to manage their schools or provide services like transportation. Other states, such as New York, prohibit any charter contracts with for-profit companies.)

While that seems fairly straightforward, Sanders—elected from Vermont and a self-described “democratic socialist”—isn’t the only presidential candidate to misstate what charter schools are. And there’s plenty of confusion among the broader public, as well.

Education Writers Association

In a 2014 Gallup poll on education issues, nearly half of respondents said they believed charter schools weren’t public, and that teaching religion was an option. Additionally, 57 percent of respondents said charter schools could charge tuition, and another 68 percent believed schools could practice selective admission. None of these things, at least as far as state laws go, are true. Whether some charter schools cherry-pick applicants, as former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton suggested to great controversy in November, is a whole other debate.

Also for another debate—whether charter schools are a good idea. The research on their performance is a mixed bag, just as it is for traditional publicly funded campuses. A 2013 Stanford study of charter schools in 25 states found slight gains in reading scores for charter students overall when compared with their peers in traditional public campuses, while math scores were not different enough to be statistically significant. There are plenty of examples of charter schools making huge strides—particularly with children from low-income families and students of color—as well as programs that have been found to be badly mismanaged, failed to adequately serve students, or were poor stewards of public dollars. In some cases, like Detroit and Florida, recent investigations by local newspapers have found lack of oversight and weak accountability laws were factors in charters’ failures.

In the same Gallup poll, 63 percent of respondents overall said they supported charters. That percentage jumped to 70 percent when the pollsters included a description of the campuses as operating “under a charter or contract that frees them from many of the state regulations imposed on public schools and permits them to operate independently.”

In recent years, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an advocacy organization, has been aggressively campaigning to raise awareness and combat intentional misinformation. I asked Nina Rees, the group’s president and CEO, for her take on Sanders’s remarks, and she emailed me the following:

First, we think it’s great that he supports public charter schools. The senator comes from one of the few states without a charter school law – but with a strong school choice tradition. However, we are disappointed that he continues to be confused about the tax status of charter schools since it is legally impossible to run a for profit charter school in the country. We look forward to meeting with the Senator to talk to him about the topic. Clearly, he is open-minded and interested in an honest dialogue about experimentation in public education and he is clearly interested in finding ways to eradicate poverty.

Rees pointed out that for-profit management companies account for just 15 percent of the charter-school market. Another 26 percent are managed by nonprofit organizations, and the remainder—59 percent—are operated independently by each school’s individual leadership.

To be sure, accuracy and honesty matter when talking about education issues, whether it’s the Common Core (no, Donald Trump can’t force states to abandon the grade-level standards) or defunding the U.S. Department of Education (Texas Senator Ted Cruz wouldn’t be able do that by himself, either).

It’s worth considering who is advising these candidates on education policies, as Education Weeks asks and answers. These issues clearly matter to voters, even if the topic (especially on the K-12 side) has taken a backseat in the televised debates and town halls. While that’s been a source of disappointment to some, there are still, almost unbelievably given the current levels of vitriol and intensity, nearly eight months left until the election. That’s plenty of time to push for more precise—and not just “more”—conversations about the future of the nation’s public schools.

This article appears courtesy of the Education Writers Association.

How to Help First-Generation Students Succeed

A few weeks ago Reina Olivas got on the phone with a freshman college student. “She was having a hard time with the cultural experience, the college experience,” said Olivas, a college mentor who’s in her third year at the University of Texas at Austin. “So I asked her this initial question—‘Have you gone to office hours?’”

Olivas is part of an eight-person crew at the Dell Scholars Program that connects with 1,500 college students across the country who could use a helpful hint from other students who also are wending their way through higher learning.

“Well, how do you do that?” Olivas recalls the student asking. “It took me back to the place where I was my first semester—what are office hours, and why do I need to go?”

Education Writers Association

Olivas, who spoke about her experiences at a recent seminar, knows about initially feeling unmoored in college. She’s the first member of her family to attend a postsecondary institution, making her one of the roughly one-third of students in higher education who are first-generation students. Unlike freshmen with parents, siblings, or cousins who have gone to college, first-generation students are largely learning the pressures of staying above water during their first year in school without any experienced guidance from home.

These students often are unaware of what’s known as the “hidden curriculum”—the mix of bureaucratic know-how and sound study skills that can make or break a student’s first year in college. These students also are mostly from lower-income households who often work more than 20 hours a week to finance their education, in many cases at the expense of classwork. Around 90 percent of lower-income first-generation students don’t graduate within six years, far below the national average for college completion.

Researchers are learning much more about first-generation students these days, showing that a combination of simple nudges and regular check-ins from mentors can go a long way toward making such students feel confident that they can navigate the strange waters of college academics.

A 2011 study by Eric Bettinger of Stanford University that looked at more than 13,000 college-student records found that students who took part in mentoring and coaching services were 10 to 15 percent more likely to advance to another year of college. The study also detected a four percentage-point increase in the graduation rates of coached students compared with students who weren’t coached. The students who received mentoring were picked by a kind of lottery, suggesting that coaching alone was responsible for the bump in retention.

Olivas leaned heavily on mentors herself. During her first year at UT-Austin her father went to jail. Tests were approaching. She wanted to go back home in Houston, where she worked while in high school to pitch in financially for her mom and siblings. So she reached out to a Dell Ambassador, which is her current role. They first talked by phone, then met in person. “What that provided me was just: I’m not alone, I’m not the only one that’s going though these issues.”

Some demographic groups are more likely to be first-generation students than others. According to 2012 U.S. Department of Education data, while about a quarter of white and Asian American students are the first in their families to enroll at a college or university, the same is true for 41 percent of black students and 61 percent of Hispanics.

And though the needs of first-generation students and of black and Latino college-goers don’t totally overlap, their challenges are similar—and similarly misunderstood.

“Inequity in higher education is one of our enduring characteristics,” said Estela Bensimon, a professor of higher-education policy at the University of Southern California. “Despite all kinds of programs, civil-rights legislation, we haven’t been able to beat it. And we are aware that we have inequities, but often we think of them as inevitable. Just like an earthquake.”

Bensimon has made a practice of visiting universities and community colleges across the country to consult with their deans and provosts about how to improve the completion rates of their black, Native American, and Latino students. She uses what she calls an equity scorecard that crunches the student enrollment and faculty data by race and guides school leaders as they make concrete plans to change their hiring practices and coursework design—changes that Bensimon says are integral to improving the academic performance of traditionally underserved students.

At the Community College of Aurora in Colorado, Bensimon partnered with the mathematics chair to help the school meet a state goal of increasing the number of Latinos who have earned postsecondary degrees and certificates. Bensimon says the approach showed that the math chair had not hired a black math faculty member in a decade; she argues that a diverse faculty is important. “Faculty are the majority of the budget at institutions of higher education, faculty are the ones that create the culture of institutions mostly, and they are the ones that through their practices, create or don’t create success for the students,” she said.

Among the adjustments the equity approach prompted at the college was an overhaul of how the college hires new faculty. The college also began monitoring how well students of various racial backgrounds perform in select classrooms and using that data to coach the instructors on how to improve the academic lot of their non-white students. Early signs show that the achievement gap between white, black, and Latino students is almost closed at Aurora, Bensimon said.

California State University Dominguez Hills, a state university near Los Angeles with a large population of first-generation students that has partnered with Bensimon before, has in the past three years lifted its graduation rate for full-time students from around 29 percent to what’s expected to be 40 percent at the end of this year.

The university’s vice president of student affairs, William Franklin, said the academic improvement can be attributed to a major rethinking of how the campus serves its students. A few years ago, the university introduced a summer bridge program for incoming freshmen whose test scores suggested they could use a tune up in math and English. The two-month summer session is free for those who qualify, reviews some of the “hidden-curriculum” concepts, introduces the campus’s many useful facilities, and helps to forge important relationships with peers and mentors. The university also spent nearly two years revising its student-mentoring program, creating a data tracker that monitors student performance and allows advisers to recommend more relevant coursework and support.

A change in culture matters, too, Franklin said. Because most of the university’s students are either low-income, black, or Hispanic, it’s tempting to “problematize [the] students, their communities, their families,” said Franklin. “‘Oh, they didn’t make it, well let’s just mystify it and bring in a larger class next time and continue doing the same thing we’ve done, and getting the same results.’”

In his view, more campus leaders should be asking, “Is the university ready for the student?”

As Cal State Dominguez Hills continues to fine-tune its mentoring and academic systems, more students are completing their first and second years of college. In 2008, before these reforms took place, the university lost 53 percent of its students who started school in 2006. Since 2010, the first-year retention levels have risen from 78 percent to nearly 82 percent.

The university is also sharing what it has learned through a 44-university coalition called Re-Imagining the First Year, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USA Funds. Dominguez Hills earned plaudits for its efforts to graduate more students on time, receiving a competitive $3 million innovation award from the state in 2015. And the school has partnered with a Stanford University initiative to focus more on students’ psychological well-being and confidence.

Beyond rolling out the right programs, how a campus reaches out to students can make a difference. Emails are fine, but colleges shouldn’t overlook social media. “Just adapt to what we as students are experiencing or what we’re using,” said Olivas. “We’re on our laptops to do our homework, but we’re on mobile phones, we’re a very mobile student body.”

This article appears courtesy of the Education Writers Association.