Institution Selection and Historical Context
Students of color continue to be at a more significant disadvantage at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) than their peers from other racial groups. For instance, such students have a high chance of dropping out of university or college (Grier-Reed et al., 2011). Therefore, it is important to examine factors that make up the individual student experience and contribute to student attrition and retention (Eakins & Eakins Sr, 2017). On that account, the Morgan State University (MSU) Office of Student Success and Retention (OSSR) was chosen to be highlighted as an equity-focused distinctive organization.
MSU’s extraordinary growth and progression date back to its founding in 1867, with ten presidents in its history and only four in the past 50 years. MSU is a public university located in Baltimore, Maryland, with its OSSR a significant driver of equity in student success and retention rates. MSU’s OSSR qualifies as a distinctive equity-oriented organization because of its strong history and commitment to the education of black Americans. The retention rate has exceeded 70 percent for eight successive years, and the current graduation rate is at 43% (Morgan State University, n.d.). MSU’s OSSR has pioneered the increase of the previous dismal retention and graduation rates.
Initiation of the Saga
MSU’s OSSR is a part of a whole university that coordinates student success and retention and has created an organizational saga through an evolutionary context. The evolutionary context involves an established organization ready for change, not facing a crisis or collapse from a prolonged decline (Clark, 1972). The OSSR in MSU fits into an evolutionary context since it was created from a secure and established organization with community support to make meaningful changes in students’ lives. MSU’s presidents have inspired cultural diversity and equity from values developed by three men on a mission. John Goucher, John Spencer, and Judge Morris Soper inspired MSU from infantry to adulthood as they collectively devoted 110 years of service to the university, guaranteeing MSU’s stability (Morgan State University, 2018). MSU has ten presidents in total, with each successor enhancing previous efforts, which made the university ready for a change, creating a priceless impact on its student population.
MSU’s OSSR is inspired by Tiffany Mfume’s leadership, which is the key driving force of the collective efforts to connect students to various support services. MSU has a long history of encouraging equity and diversity since it was founded with a primary focus on the needs of minorities. Through Tiffany’s charismatic efforts, MSU can recognize students who lack food and shelter (Morgan State University, n.d.). Minorities such as Black and Latino students often come from low-income families; therefore, such students are vulnerable to failure to meet their basic needs (Abramovitz & Blitz, 2015). The change was created by the need to understand outside factors that affect classroom experience or performance. The primary goal of the OSSR is the improvement of student success through reclamation and retention programs.
Several programs make OSSR distinct, focusing on increasing student retention rates and graduation through systematic tracking to promote academic achievement and success. Firstly, OSSR promotes the starfish program that assists faculty with possible interventions regarding low-performing students. Secondly, the OSSR engages and rehabilitates students eligible for suspension, which reduces graduation times. Additionally, first-year students are paired with alumni who volunteer to help students network. Finally, the OSSR works to reduce the number of students ineligible for financial aid or those with late or incomplete federal aid applications (Morgan State University, n.d.). All these programs reduce financial burdens, which makes education equitable for needy students.
Fulfillment of the Saga
The OSSR at MSU has created a unified, unique history as it has earned national awards for student retention and success. OSSR’s distinctiveness became institutionalized because the entire staff of OSSR made student success their primary priority. The top management supports the OSSR and is committed to its mission of providing inclusive and innovative educational experiences to students. OSSR staff uses a significant amount of time tracking and monitoring students’ satisfactory academic standing and finances. Some salient examples of how OSSR fulfills its goals include Beyond Financial Aid (BFA) and advising programs (Morgan State University, n.d.). The BFA program was created to minimize the personal hardships that marginalized students face during matriculation.
BFA programs help students to avoid challenges that traditional financial assistance cannot solve. For instance, health concerns, public assistance, transportation costs, food services, and other social needs are not addressed in traditional financial aid. The OSSR connects students with BFA services, helping reduce school stop-outs and withdrawals due to the absence of basic needs. Advising involves providing the First-Year Experience program, including mandatory orientation courses and professional advising. Grants from Maryland Higher Education Commission, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation have helped OSSR improve student success and retention by purchasing software and tools (Morgan State University, n.d.). Such tools assist OSSR in predictive analytics, strategic monitoring and tracking, degree planning and auditing, and academic mentoring and coaching.
Applying Operational Definition and Conceptual Framework
The theoretical framework was identified in the concept statement as Principles to Improve Equity and Continuously Embody Diversity (PIECED). The framework is founded on the principles of Cultural Sustaining Pedagogy (CSP) and Funds of Knowledge (FoK) (Lindsey et al., 2019). FoK is extremely important since it forms the foundation for sociocultural orientation using families’ knowledge, resources, and experiences (Kiyama, 2011). In addition, FoK can enable OSSR to acknowledge cultural differences and eliminate discrimination due to unintelligence and unawareness.
The PIECED framework aims to enhance equity and diversity in an organization through CSP and FoK. MSU’s OSSR is committed to creating an equitable educational environment. The BFA is an example of a program that builds equity in an academic setting. BFA enables marginalized students, who often come from low-income families, to access education that would be otherwise impossible to attain without help (Wilson, 2020). For example, Deja Jones was a second-year student at MSU in 2017, and she had depleted her money and had no food. She managed to eat once a day on a rationed diet, which reduced her energy levels, leading to her failure to attend classes. Through the OSSR networks, she could get assistance and continue with her education (Focus, 2018). In such a context, the resources that OSSR provides create an equitable educational environment for Deja.
Additionally, through the OSSR, students can get mental, emotional, and financial support if their source of income becomes unavailable. On the other hand, monitoring and tracking students’ finances helps identify those who need financial help before dropping out. Students of color are more vulnerable to financial hardships than their white counterparts. Therefore, by identifying such students, they make education equitable by offering financial literacy and support.
Reflecting on the assignment, equity and diversity is an integral parts of an organization. In today’s world, system racial problems exist in all sectors, including education (Green & Wright, 2017). Schools have to understand various tenets of different cultures in order to offer inclusive education to all students. Principles such as FoK can help implement a culturally and racially sensitive framework for enhancing student retention and success (Abramovitz & Blitz, 2015). Furthermore, students face hardships that traditional financial aid programs cannot solve. Therefore, it is critical to recognize such barriers that derail students’ academic progress and address them.
Abramovitz, M., & Blitz, L. V. (2015). Moving toward racial equity: The undoing racism workshop and organizational change. Race and Social Problems, 7(2), 97–110.
Clark, B. R. (1972). The organizational saga in higher education. Administrative Science Quarterly, 178-184.
Eakins, A., & Eakins Sr, S. L. (2017). African American students at predominantly white institutions: A collaborative style cohort recruitment & retention model. Journal of Learning in Higher Education, 13(2), 51-57.
Focus. (2018). Morgan State nourishes students every way it can. Web.
Green, S. L., & Wright, C. F. (2017). Retaining first generation underrepresented minority students: A struggle for higher education. Journal of Education Research, 11(3), 323.
Grier-Reed, T., Ehlert, J., & Dade, S. (2011). Profiling the African American student network. Learning Assistance Review, 16(1), 21-30.
Kiyama, J. M. (2011). Family lessons and funds of knowledge: College-going paths in Mexican American families. Journal of Latinos and Education, 10(1), 23-42. Web.
Lindsey, R. B., Nuri-Robins, K., Terrell, R. D., & Lindsey, D. (2019). Cultural proficiency: A manual for school leaders (4th ed.). Corwin.
Morgan State University. (2018). Purpose, progress and promise. Morgan Magazine. Web.
Morgan State University. (n.d.). About the office of student success and retention. Web.
Wilson, D. K. (2020). FY2021 operating budget testimony. Maryland Department of Budget and Management. Web.