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Project Title:Learning for Life (L4L): A Student Access and Success InitiativeInstitution Name:Rhode Island College (RIC) Innovation Category:Student Success Project Director:Christiane Petrin Lambert, MA, MSW, LCSW, Project DirectorContact Information:401-456-8275, clambert@ric.eduWebsite:https://www.ric.edu/learningforlife/
Project Description:

Learning for Life (L4L) is a research-based, student-to-student initiative designed to seed innovation and collaboration across campus to support underrepresented students to complete college. L4L crosses campus divisions of student and academic affairs and involves partnerships with community organizations, including the Central Falls School District, College Crusade of Rhode Island, College Visions, Goodwill Industries of Rhode Island, and the Providence Children and Youth Cabinet. L4L accomplishes two-tiered goals: 

1. Crafting and testing a holistic, student-centered, sustainable peer-to-peer model of student support, specifically targeting and fashioning services to underrepresented students

2. Catalyzing a campus culture that promotes the success of all students with targeted initiatives for students most at-risk of not persisting

At the heart of L4L is the Navigator model of student support, peer-to-peer mentorship and linkages to resources for students through a network of trained students (Junior, Senior, or Master’s level) in partnership with the RIC School of Social Work. Additional program elements include: Community building events such as monthly themed community lunches; Targeted outreach and support through collaborative partnerships, including Finish Strong – outreach to students who left the College before finishing, in partnership with the Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs (AVPAA) and Collaborative initiatives with on- and off-campus partners to bring new resources for students, including comprehensive learning evaluations. Notably, RIC received funds through a Lumina Foundation Community Partnership for Attainment Sub Award from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University/Providence Children and Youth Cabinet to pilot an enhanced support model for a group of 10-12 Latino/a students from Providence Public High Schools.


Objective As Measured by
Develop and expand a network of trained peer advocates, called Navigators    

Number of Navigators recruited

Training provided

Link students to resources including existing student services at RIC and through community providers

Number of contacts between Scholars and Navigators

Number of referrals

Increase persistence rates for L4L Scholars at or better than general institutional rates

Number of Scholars served

Semester-semester persistence/enrollment and year-year retention

Generate new collaborative initiatives for student success

Collaborative asset mapping

Interviews with campus stakeholders


Excerpts from Year 1 and Year 2 Evaluation Report by Dr. Mimi Mumm, PhD, LICSW:  

  • The L4L Navigators serve as direct peer support and advocacy to L4L Scholars. Navigators provided peer-delivered college know-how and made college life possible through connections to on and off-campus resources in areas such as referrals to the Career Development Center, childcare, housing and food security.
  • In Year 2, there were 249 active Scholars. This is a sizable jump from the first program year of 161 Scholars. A total of 5416 contacts were made between the Scholars and the Navigators. Navigators made 300 referrals to both on campus and off-campus supports and services.
  • The retention rate of L4L Scholars who entered in fall 2013 as full-time, first-time freshmen is 86%, which is 7.6 percentage points higher than the retention rate of the general RIC population (78.6%). “Based on the Year 2 program evaluation in 2014, the success rate for Black/African-American Scholars was 9.6% (graduated or retained) better than their non-scholar peers; Hispanic scholars fared 5.8% higher” (Mumm, 2015).
  • Learning for Life had a very successful year in terms of increasing persistence and forming collaboration across campus and in the community. Relationships with L4L borrowed on previously existing relationships and partnerships and created new relationships among partners. Learning for Life “helped build bridges between different departments, the curricular and co-curricular departments on campus, there is definitely more referrals in between different services… being involved with L4L helped bridge me to different things (for example) Vets Success on Campus….and even faculty knowing that if they have an at-risk student…. (L4L) can provide wrap-around support…” 
Challenges/Problems Encountered:

The most recent L4L evaluation also indicated areas to strengthen the project, including:

  • Data and Targeted Interventions: “(C)ertain data is not as easily accessible, for example persistence rates are only available on a semester- to-semester basis. Information on whether someone has enrolled for the next semester is available only two weeks prior to the semester. While persistence from semester to semester is valuable information, it would more valuable to know which Scholars have registered for the upcoming semester. This would be valuable for not only data collection purposes, but also for intervention purposes” (Mumm, 2015). The development of early alert systems based on what we learn are critical factors and thresholds to intervene with students in time to avoid stop-out or drop-out.
  • Rapid Growth and Staffing: As stated by one stakeholder, “(the program) is getting expanded and diluted simultaneously” (Respondent #2). The amount of collaborations is seen as a strength. A concern is that growth without additional staffing resources can damage Learning for Life (Mumm, 2015).
  • Navigator Turnover: The impact of having continual staff turnover with the Navigators every year. At this point, Navigators commit to serving the program for one academic year. Therefore, Scholars may work with 2-6 different Navigators over the course of their time at RIC. It is important to identify and implement mechanisms to develop a staggered or tiered turnover, with some Navigators staying for multiple years.
  • Sustainability: Currently, Learning for Life is primarily funded through a large, federal CACG grant. It is important for Learning for Life to consider the future and how the Program will be sustained on campus once the 5-year grant ends.  

Evaluation Approach:L4L undergoes a thorough project evaluation including data analysis annually by a faculty member from the RIC School of Social Work, Dr. Mimi Mumm, PhD, LICSW. Dr. Mumm compiles and analyzes the data annually to provide a comprehensive report, as outlined through a logic model. The project's goals and objectives provide the core outline for the logic model for the evaluation. Navigators and the L4L Staff collect data from the Scholars at intake and during subsequent meetings. This information is entered into Excel and analyzed by the program evaluator. Additionally, the Navigators, and key stakeholders are interviewed. Data from Peoplesoft, Rhode Island College’s (RIC) student database, were also accessed for information about students’ demographic information. 
Potential for Replication:

Key factors for replication include:  

Based on the prevailing integration model developed by Tinto (1975) and reinforced by others (Brittenham, Cook, Hall, Moore-Whitesell, Ruhl-Smith, Shafii-Mousavi, & White, 2003; Reynolds, Gross Millard, & Pattengale, 2010; O’Keefe, 2013; RI Kids Count, 2013), L4L is a collaborative that crosses campus divisions of student and academic affairs and involves partnerships with community organizations. “Student persistence depends largely upon successful integration into an institution’s academic and social systems...The success with which the student is able to navigate these systems (i.e. academic integration and social integration) influences the student’s commitments to the institution and to the goal of graduation” (Tinto, 1975, p. 80).   

Targeted outreach efforts can be tailored to reach specific student populations, such as returning adult learners, incoming freshman from specific school districts, etc. This ensures that resources are available for the students most in need of additional support, based on data and research. It is also important to avoid labeling students “at-risk”, rather noting the risky circumstances of their lives, such as growing up in poverty, attending under-resourced schools, etc.  

The project is guided by three principles that are reflected in all L4L initiatives: (1) All efforts undertaken by the project should empower peer-peer support. (2) The role of the project is to catalyze new initiatives, seeding them throughout campus. (3) All newly seeded projects are based on clearly defined and documented student need, grounded in best practice and the latest research. At the heart of L4L are the Navigators, a team of peer mentors and advocates who join with the students served through L4L, called L4L Scholars.  

The Navigator model serves as template for peer-peer initiatives, institutionalizing and empowering student voice throughout the College. The dynamic and flexible nature of the Navigator model makes it ideally suited to be responsive. Navigators, are supported by the work of Mechur Karp (2011). She conducted a meta-analysis of 128 sources to develop practical ways by which to employ prevailing models, including Tinto’s. She found the essential elements of non-academic support to ally with academic bolsters:  (1) improving college know-how; (2) making attending college feasible; (3) connecting students to campus and social networks; and (4) clarifying future goals. O’Keefe (2013) found that “access points on campus which are removed from faculty, where the student is able to seek help” are critical for first generation students. Similarly, Brittenham, et al. (2003) documented the value of peer mentors in developmental education. The role of Navigator has become something that Scholars aspire to, creating an additional retention mechanism to the model. The peer-peer support efforts of the Navigators drive the levers of institutional change and ensure sustainability of student voice in institutional change and development.

Elements of the L4L model, including the Navigator model, incorporates seven key elements:

  1. Navigators are peers. They are currently enrolled students who have achieved at least 90 credits and are in good academic standing.
  2. Navigators receive extensive training, in partnership with the School of Social Work and other campus and community partners, including: the Ethics of Care; Confidentiality; Identification for signs of mental illness; suicidality/homicidality; documentation procedures; resources for basic needs; sexual assault prevention, awareness, and support; domestic violence; housing, etc.
  3. Participation by Scholars in L4L is voluntary. Though students may be referred to or encouraged to join L4L, they are not required to participate and their level of involvement is based on their self-assessment of what fits into their lives.
  4.  The level of service that a Scholar receives is outlined through four tiers of support:
    • Occasional: Scholars correspond with their Navigator as needed throughout the semester.
    • Monthly: Scholars connect with their Navigator an average of once monthly, e.g. at the monthly Community Lunch.
    • Bi-weekly: Scholars arrange a regular meeting time with their Navigator for every other week
    • Weekly: Scholars check in at least once weekly with their Navigators
      • Scholars self-assess their need for support, and move within and among the tiers as needed.
  5. Primary focuses for all Navigator/Scholar interactions are self-determination and self-advocacy; a modelling of success strategies and skill-building.
  6. Navigators: Connect Scholars to needed resources; Walk with them through the process as needed; and Follow up to make sure the connection was helpful.
  7. The work between Scholars and Navigators is guided by a Scholar Plan, which includes four domains that current research has identified as important for student success: financial, career planning, social, and academic.


Additional Resources:

Brittenham, R., Cook, R., Hall, J. B., Moore-Whitesell, P., Ruhl-Smith, C., Shafii-Mousavi, M., & White, K. (2003). Connections: An Integrated Community of Learners. Journal of Developmental Education, 27(1), 18-25.

Mechur Karp, M. (2011). Toward a new understanding of non-academic student support: Four mechanisms encouraging positive student outcomes in the community college. Community College Research Center, 28, 1-33.

Mumm, A. M. (2013).Learning for Life Evaluation. . Providence, RI: Rhode Island College.

Mumm, A. M. (2015). Learning for Life Evaluation Program Year 2. Providence, RI: Rhode Island College.

O’Keefe, P. (2013). A sense of belonging: Improving student retention. College Student  Journal, 47(4), 605-613.

Reynolds, P. J., Gross, J. K., Millard, B., & Pattengale, J. (2010). Using longitudinal mixed-methods research to look at undeclared students. New Directions for Institutional Research, 53-66.


CEO-to-CEO Contact:Dr. Nancy Carriuolo , Presidentncarriuolo@ric.edu
(401) 456-8101
Date Published: Tuesday, August 18, 2015