When Heritage University opened in 1982, it faced a tremendous challenge: how to increase the number of residents holding four-year degrees in the agricultural Yakima Valley including the Yakama Nation Reservation. These would be NEW participants in higher education, from families where no one had attended a four-year college. A very low percentage of college degrees (only 9%) existed because these largely Hispanic, rural white and Native populations had been unable to honor their key identities – such as their geographic location, their culture, their gender, and their economic situations – and also participate in available four-year degree programs.
Since 1982, Heritage University has created successful face-to-face college degree pathways for more than 7,000 degree recipients in rural Eastern Washington. The work of Heritage University’s hands-on educators and successful students provides the research basis for significant insights into how students’ relevant identities can be engaged as assets and not handicaps in their educational process.
Founding of ISIS
Heritage’s founding president, Dr. Kathleen Ross, snjm, Ph.D., retired in 2010. As a Visiting Research Fellow at Claremont Graduate University in 2010-11, she explored existing national research on issues of student identity and student success. Based on this research, and to take advantage of the practical knowledge and skills which Heritage University gained over its first 30 years, Heritage University launched the Institute for Student Identity and Success in 2011 with Dr. Ross as Director.
Mission of ISIS
To increase the number of four-year degree recipients among low-income, first-generation-to-college students by assisting faculty and administrators to use new research knowledge and skills that foster degree completion by “New Majority” students.
Current Work of ISIS
Early research confirms that the college staff group nationally which is simultaneously most important for New Majority student success and most underserved with supportive resources is FACULTY. With this in mind, ISIS is currently developing useful, succinct, practical materials to share with interested faculty nationally. Three Research Assistants and Advisory Group members are pooling research findings and interview results to develop “Tips” and “Strategies” which will become available in early 2013.
A second area being explored is Sustaining Students’ Spirituality & Personal Strengths, based on research completed at UCLA and described in the 2010 book Cultivating the Spirit (by Alexander Astin, Helen S. Astin, and Jennifer A. Lindholm). This research provides solid evidence that student success is increased and student satisfaction is improved when key elements of spirituality are strengthened (equanimity/ resilience, search for life’s meaning, an ethic of caring, charitable involvement, and a global awareness). Heritage University is non-denominational but is the successor to a college sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary which had a rich history of sustaining students’ spiritual growth (Fort Wright College of the Holy Names, Spokane, 1907 – 1982). ISIS is piloting several approaches that are appropriate to a non-denominational institution with a wide spectrum of religious traditions, such as use of a campus labyrinth.
The Institute seeks to share and compare Heritage’s findings with other higher education institutions which are seeking to increase the number of low-income, first-generation college graduates. Pilot institutions interested in providing feedback on the ISIS materials under development can contact us at email@example.com.
Heritage University is a founding member of the Yes We Must Coalition. ISIS is collaborating with this coalition to increase the success of Pell Grant (low-income) students. See their website at http://yeswemustcoalition.org.
For further information on the work of ISIS:
Dr. Kathleen A. Ross, snjm, Ph.D., Director
Heritage University / Institute for Student Identity and Success
3240 Fort Road
Toppenish, WA 98948