NIU team develops creative path to college success

A team of NIU faculty and administrators has been selected by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) to participate in the AAC&U summer Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success at Boston University in late June. The Institute is designed to help campus teams develop highly engaging approaches to learning that improve both college completion rates and the quality of student learning.

The NIU team—made up of Paul Kassel, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts; Renique Kersh, associate vice provost for Engaged Learning; Kelly Smith, director of the First- and Second-Year Experience; Greg Barker, director of Testing Services and Academic Affairs Research Support; and Stephanie Sailer, School of Art and Design recruitment officer—will develop their plan for the Creative Path to College Success.

The team proposes an innovative and immersive program for under-served populations utilizing the arts disciplines as a gateway to college success. Their Creative Path to College Success includes a pre-college summer boot camp to establish cohorts and a creative college culture; a discipline-specific first-year intensive studio experience that includes writing and math components; and a summer bridge program to develop reading, writing and math competencies. Ultimately, the creative path could lead to a proposed B.A. in interdisciplinary arts or innovative entrepreneurship, which would help students harness creativity for careers and community engagement.

Kassel notes, “Many college readiness programs focus on deficits—what a student lacks. The creative path focuses on assets. Many students have an affinity for, or simply find pleasure in, various expressive forms—dance, visual art, music, theater. We find these students [junior year in high school], and then bring them together in a cohort to study their preferred art form over the course of their first year. This will enable them to have an almost instantaneous support group [crucial to success], and by immersing them in an art practice, we believe they will  discover the discipline required to succeed.”

Kassel continues, “Every day you can read about how arts and liberal arts education is what employers are really looking for. But our country doesn’t value the arts except in the most basic ways—and it’s always the first thing to go during budget problems.”

Sailer adds, “The unfortunate result is undiscovered talent and potential futures lost. Access to the arts and successful pathways through college should not be only available to students who already hold a key.”

The team is committed to increasing equity and diversity among NIU students. In the words of Kersh, “It is our belief that student success depends on multiple entry points and pathways. We want to open the door to college wider, and to open more doors. The Creative Path to College Success is a door—and a rather wide one—that will capture students who might otherwise choose not to attend college. The project is a natural development of our efforts to reach and help students—all students—succeed.”

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