At Holy Family University, a third of the incoming classes come from low-income families, and students often work one or two jobs to afford college.
To help with some of the challenges students face, the Northeast Philadelphia school sought some help — and got it. Last Monday, Holy Family says, it received a $2 million Title III Strengthening Institutions grant from the U.S. Department of Education to improve academic quality and fiscal stability.
The money will be used to create a Center for Teaching and Learning to support at-risk students and hire student tutors, graduate assistants, student support staff, and a director to improve faculty development, university president Sister Maureen McGarrity said.
“Coming from blue-collar backgrounds, our students don’t usually know their potential,” McGarrity said. “Many of our students are first generation, coming from low- and middle-income families. So this grant gives us a competitive edge with our students, because it allows us to provide them resources they need to thrive.”
To qualify for the grant, at least 50% of degree-seeking students at an institution had to be receiving financial aid, or a substantial number of students had to be receiving Pell Grants. Applicants also were rated on the institutions’ strengths and plans to improve.
Established in 1954, Holy Family has 3,200 undergraduate and graduate students. It was the only institution in Philadelphia to receive the grant this year, according to university officials, who said the school last received the grant in 2010.
The $2 million will be disbursed over five years, with about $400,000 dedicated to equipment for the new center, McGarrity said. Money also will be allocated for identifying student disabilities and finding ways to overcome learning hurdles. In addition, faculty and tutors will receive training to implement technology in the classroom.
Shelley Robbins, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, worked on the grant application, and said her team conducted in-depth analyses on the university’s strengths, which included a support model for nursing school students. The university plans to extend that support to the rest of the school by increasing tutoring sessions for classes where students typically struggle.
“Everyone comes in eager to learn, then they get here and work kicks in and life kicks in and they don’t know if they’ll make it,” Robbins said.
“This grant will help us identify when these obstacles kick in and we can help them get to the finish line,” she added. “Everyone is happy when they start and ... when they’re done, but we want to help them along the way.”