Newswise — First-time college students need perseverance to succeed. They also need support from their campus community. For historically underserved and first-generation students, that support is even more critical.
Students of color make up more than half of the student population at the CSU. That's why the university has dozens of student support programs across its 23 campuses tailored to meet the needs of specific student populations.
A new program at CSU Channel Islands focuses on student academic success by increasing engagement and fostering a sense of belonging on campus for African American students. Made possible by a grant from the CSU Chancellor's Office, the African American Outreach & Transitions Academy (AATA) connects incoming CSUCI freshmen with faculty and staff mentors of color who help them overcome obstacles, develop an academic identity and navigate successfully through their first year.
The program started the summer before the 2019-20 academic year with an intensive three-day, on-campus academy. Student support continues throughout the academic year with regular check-ins, engagement activities and academic success workshops.
“Being able to sit down and just talk with African American faculty and staff who they could relate to made a huge difference," says Charles Osiris, Ph.D., associate vice president of student affairs in Retention, Outreach and Inclusive Student Services. In fact, many of the students in CSUCI's African American Transitions Academy had never had an African American teacher or mentor, Dr. Osiris says.
During the three-day introduction academy, the goal was to make sure the students understood culturally what they needed to be successful and developed an early sense of belonging to the institution. Osiris explains that at the start, some students weren't even sure if Channel Islands was the right institution for them. “But after just those three days, they felt like it was a place they could graduate from," he says.
Academy sessions included how to build relationships with faculty, how to navigate the campus, understanding financial aid and establishing effective study groups—all with the goal of helping students develop skills and attitudes for optimal success. Representatives from the campus's Black Student Union also participated in the academy and students continue to engage with these student leaders throughout the academic year.
Osiris says one of the most significant parts of program is for students to understand that “there are people here who are invested in them and taking the time to hold them accountable for being here, and to support and encourage them."
While the first cohort is still underway, Osiris points to early success stories. A few of the students in the program he was initially concerned about have done exceptionally well this past semester. Program coordinators have also reached out to students who they believe would be good peer mentors for the next summer cohort. “Many are eager to apply [to be peer mentors]. You can tell they're deeply invested in the program," he says, adding that getting the students to register and show intent to come back to the campus for their second year is their goal. "And the ultimate goal is degree completion."
Supporting Student Success Across the CSU
Student support programs are essential to narrowing the academic equity gap that exists between students of color and their peers, a key focus of Graduation Initiative 2025. By creating a sense of belonging for students and encouraging campus community engagement, dedicated staff and faculty across the CSU are improving student retention and graduation rates. Learn about more CSU programs for students of color:
This list represents just a sampling of CSU programs for historically underserved students. In addition to campus-based programs, many institutions have various student-run groups. The CSU also has programs focused on recruiting teachers of color.