Listening to Students’ Voices4Change

Hope Center for College, Community, and JusticeLast week, we saw the announcement of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, the next generation of the highly successful Wisconsin Hope Lab. The new center, located at Temple University, will continue and deepen the research and innovation aimed at helping striving students succeed in higher education, even as they are wrestling with serious challenges such as housing insecurity, food insecurity, transportation, childcare and more.

This announcement matters. Indeed, if we truly care about first-generation and low-income students, putting extra-academic issues front and center becomes essential. While many of these students may need to improve their math and writing, it’s the crush of life and logistics—and sometimes mindsets—that all too often gets in the way.

We see this in the data, and we hear it in the stories our students tell. For example, many Civitas Learning partner colleges and universities are running high-GPA, low-persistence campaigns aimed at identifying students who are succeeding academically, but still struggling to persist. In our related Community Insights Report, we saw more than 40% of the students who left their studies in the last year fit this description.  The outreach nudging aimed at connecting with these students affirms their successes, normalizes their challenges, and invites them to connect with advisors. The result has been deep conversations and even deeper issues uncovered—and an almost double-digit increase in persistence. Listening and connecting makes a difference.

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, a recognized national and international champion of this work, has been highlighting these issues for over a decade. She’s been the driving force behind the Hope Lab, the new Hope Center, and the Real College Convening, an event that challenges the field and the media to move beyond the obsession with Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton whenever discussing higher education. To get a sense of the voice she brings, check out her recent podcast on Catalytic Conversations or her compelling NY Times Campus Matters talk on “Paying the Price.”

The centers, convenings, and research notwithstanding, Sara will tell you it’s not enough. These diverse vehicles, while useful and often able to get things moving quickly, sometimes can’t get bring the education leaders, policy makers, and thought leaders all the way there on these issues. You can often hear the hidden–and sometimes not-so-hidden–disbelief in their voices when they react to the findings, presentations, or intervention strategies. To bring this work full circle, and to gain the empathy to inform the design thinking necessary to address these challenges, we must be willing to take the time to slow down and listen to students.

Voices for Change (#Voices4Change) is a #RealCollege movement that Sara, and the team at the Hope Center, are championing to bring more of these voices to the fore. In the podcast that follows, we explore the energy and urgency behind this initiative, and invite the listeners and their institutions to join the cause. Take the time to learn more about how you can elevate and amplify #Voices4Change!

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