Higher Education and Human Resources

FSU program prepares minorities for college

Promesa, an eight-week summer course, features 95 percent success rate.

October 14, 2016
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Approximately five years ago, Tony Baker noticed a troubling trend on the campus of Ferris State University.

Baker, director of community engagement at FSU, was seeing more and more Hispanic students come to Big Rapids and feeling a sense of disconnect from the campus and the university. So, after discussions with the school’s provost, Baker was asked to set up a specific outreach program, and The Center for Latin@ Studies was born.

About a year into the center’s existence, Baker realized there was a missing link — a connection with the communities from where these students were coming.

“Students on campus were connected to their homes, but we weren’t,” Baker said. “We wanted to come up with an offering to connect us to those communities and a college readiness program seemed like a natural step.”

So in 2013, FSU launched its inaugural Promesa program in partnership with Grand Rapids Public Schools, with Baker as program coordinator. Part of Ferris’ Woodbridge Promise Success Program, Promesa readies high school minority students for post-secondary education through development classes and ACT prep. The eight-week summer program is designed to reflect the cultural background of its students and prepare them not only for the academic rigors of a college education, but the total university experience.

Promesa classes are comprised of students entering their senior year of high school who have a GPA of at least 2.5 and ACT scores that place them in Ferris’ developmental courses — MATH 110 and READ 106. Students must receive a recommendation from their school to enroll in the program.

In the inaugural year, 16 GRPS students enrolled in the program. Since then, Promesa has expanded to include Holland Public Schools and West Ottawa Public Schools and has established an emerging partnership with Shelby Public Schools and Hart Public Schools. Last year, 60 students participated in Promesa and across three years, the program boasts a 95 percent success rate in helping students continue their education after high school.

“The students that we get tend to wonder if they can even succeed at the community college level — even though they are academically prepared and would theoretically get into college, they don’t think they could succeed there,” Baker said. “They go from imagining they can’t get into college to applying to and getting accepted to schools like Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University or Ferris.”

Baker said it costs about $25,000 to run each program, but thanks to funding and support from various foundations and community organizations, Promesa is offered completely free to students, who receive nine hours of college credit upon completion of the program. Additionally, once they’ve completed the eight-week course, the schools stay in touch with the students to ensure they remain on the right track to reach their goals of attending a four-year college.

“One thing that’s really important that the program does for our children is giving them the message for what it takes to be a college student,” GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal said. “That experience is extremely important, because it provides students with some comfort level when they get to college.”

Baker said one of the added benefits of the Promesa program is showing students they are entitled to use the many resources available in their communities, from libraries to museums. He said each Promesa class is introduced to a public official who further reiterates they are as much a part of the community as anyone else.

“We teach our students how to own the city,” Baker said. “They know that City Hall is there for them, the public universities are there for them and they should own it and have the city do for them what they need it to do.”

Although Ferris runs the program, Baker noted most students go on to continue their education at other institutions, and Promesa instructors are more than happy to assist them. The intent of Promesa isn’t to act as a funnel for Ferris, he said, but to help the students achieve their ultimate educational goals.

The benefit for Ferris comes from establishing strong partnerships with schools and the community. In addition to its partner school systems, Ferris works with the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, AT&T, Destination Education, Latin Americans United for Progress, the Hispanic Center of Oceana County and Oceana County College Access Network to run the program. The school also works with local institutions — Kendall College for Art and Design in Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Community College in Holland — which provide classroom space.

“From the university perspective, we continue to invest in this program because there’s a recognition that it works,” Baker said. “Promesa has established embedded relationships in the community and has become a way to relate to young people going to college.

“And I think there’s been a shift in people in these communities now seeing college as an accessible aspiration they should work for — and to some extent, that’s a classic immigrant story. There’s beginning to be an emphasis that this is a route to becoming a bigger part of this society.”

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