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
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.
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
recent L4L evaluation also indicated areas to strengthen the project,
- 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).
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.
Potential for Replication:
Key factors for
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,
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:
- Navigators are peers. They are currently enrolled students
who have achieved at least 90 credits and are in good academic
- 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.
- 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.
level of service that a Scholar receives is outlined through four tiers
- 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
- 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.
- Primary focuses for all Navigator/Scholar interactions are
self-determination and self-advocacy; a modelling of success
strategies and skill-building.
- Navigators: Connect Scholars to
needed resources; Walk with them through the process as needed; and
Follow up to make sure the connection was helpful.
- 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.
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
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.