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Gateway On List of Prestigious Schools Winning Millions in Federal Grant Money

Gateway Community & Technical College is in good company Tuesday as the United States Department of Education announced 24 institutions that received grant funds through the First In The World program.

Gateway will receive $3.6 million over the next four years that will allow the school to integrate evidence-based strategies that are intended to deliver three interventions to a targeted population of degree-seeking students who have at least one developmental need. Gateway will use the funds through its Flexible Learning and Exploration space (FLEXspace) project to address the specific challenges that community colleges face related to access, engagement, and completion of under-prepared, underrepresented, and low-income students.

Gateway President & CEO Dr. Ed Hughes invited The River City News to sit in during a conference call with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as well as the presidents of Hampton University, William Harvey (currently at the end of one of the longest tenures of a US college president), and Purdue Univeristy, Mitch Daniels, the former Governor of Indiana.

The Education Department received 500 applications from which Gateway was selected, the only institution from Kentucky.

“Each grantee demonstrated a high-quality, creative and sound approach to expand college access and improve student outcomes,” Duncan said. “We are confident these projects will have a positive impact on increasing access and completion and help us reach President Obama’s 2020 goal, to once again have the highest share of college graduates in the world.”

“Gateway is thrilled to be part of this national initiative and to be working toward this goal in the company of such outstanding educational institutions as Purdue University in Indiana and Hampton University in Virginia,” said Gateway President Dr. Ed Hughes. “I’m pleased that our talented faculty and staff are being recognized for their innovative approach to creating active learning environments that we believe will increase student completion. While we will create an Information Learning Commons on each of our campuses that centralizes student learning support services in a high tech but user-friendly approach assisting faculty and staff to be even more engaging and active facilitators of student learning is the real key.  We are beyond thrilled to have this unique opportunity to build on our innovative learning approaches.”

Some of the other schools that received funding include, Arizona State University, Georgia Tech University, University of Southern California, Northeastern University, University of Minnesota, and Texas A&M University.

Hughes, who became a college president at the age of 34 and about whom a small joke was made during the conference call that he could eventually challenge Harvey for longest tenure, thanked his staff for their work on the grant submission. "These students just have to have more engagement in their learning in their very challenging lives," he said. 

The new initiative will help accelerate completion time so that students with developmental needs will be placed in classes in their field of study more quickly. The program will continue Gateway's approach to learner-centered classrooms such as those in the new Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Building (the renovated Marx Building) in Downtown Covington where Hughes and his team assembled for Tuesday's call.

Information Commons will be created on each Gateway campus.

"Let me assure you," Hughes told Duncan, "your investment in Gateway Community & Technical College will be wisely used."

Daniels shared the sentiments of Hughes and Harvey that low-income students benefit from active learning.

Doug Penix, Gateway's director of learning environments, said that the college has partnered with Steelcase Corporation to design its active learner classrooms. Sister Margaret Stallmeyer, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs (and former longtime president of Thomas More College) at Gateway, said that the staff will hit the ground running on the new initiative. There is an in-service scheduled for Friday in which staff will undergo training for the active learning environment.

Dr. Kerri McKenna, division chair of developmental education, said that a similar effort underway at Gateway in a pilot format is already showing results. Students who would typically be relegated strictly to remedial courses are now enrolling in regular first-year classes with an additional supplement to keep them on track. Traditionally, she said, there is a retention rate of 68-72% in first-year English courses, but in the pilot program, that rate has climbed to 82%. "Our full time reading faculty say students are doing well," McKenna said.

With the new funds, "It's going to allow us to move to scale faster," Hughes said. When the funding is completed at the end of four years, the program will then be embedded in the school's curriculum, he said.

Kristen Smitherman, project manager in Gateway's grant department, said that when the grant was crafted, the focus was on the typical Gateway student that may face challenges outside the classroom. "We wanted to focus on the majority of Gateway students that had potential but had barriers to their completion," she said. "The only guaranteed time we have with them is in the classroom."

In recent weeks, Gateway and Hughes have been criticized publicly by two members of the college's board of directors mostly over the enrollment figures at the school's role in fulfilling jobs for the local manufacturing community. With the new funds, the programs will only be bolstered to be more attractive to nearby students. The challenge, Hughes said, is in reaching them and convincing them manufacturing today is not what it used to be.

"Young people today look at the manufacturing of the 50s and 60s. You go to Mazak and you see that it's anything but," Hughes said. He said that the school will release figures related to its commitment to fulfilling the manufacturing community's needs later this week. 

Gateway is increasing its reach to local high schools where Hughes targets students before they become seniors, saying that once they are seniors it could be too late. Explaining that a high-paying job could be available while a student at Gateway, is a priority in the school's recruitment process.

"For the past four years we've avaeraged over 1,100 people being trained in manufacturing," Hughes said, adding that those numbers include current employees at facilities as well as new targets of women, under-employed people, and veterans.

"This program really just allows us to - once we get these students, to retain them, and move them through the program," Hughes said.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Hughes (center) talks during conference call Tuesday with (from L-R) Stallmeyer, Penix, McKenna, and Smitherman in Covington/RCN