Assistant Professor of Education Di Xu was an invited speaker at the recent 10th Annual Best Practices Conference of the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions (AHSIE), held March 25-28 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The title of her presentation was "Evidence-based Strategies to EASE Students’ Way into STEM: The Design and Evaluation of a First-Year STEM Cohort Program to Support Underprepared Students at a Hispanic Serving Institution." The 2018 conference theme was HSIs Ayer, Hoy, y Mañana - Learning from the Past, Paving the Way for the Future.
A number of reports have called for changes to existing educational practices to increase the quality, number, and diversity of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) graduates. The need for such action is coupled to the fact that first-generation, low income, and underrepresented minority (URM) students in STEM fields exhibit disproportionately lower course performance, rates of retention, and continuation to graduate school. Drawing on the theory of learning communities and the existing literature on cohort programs, the Ayala School of Biological Sciences at the University of California Irvine created the EASE (Enhanced Academic Success Experience) initiative, a program designed to aid less-prepared Bio Sci majors. The program was launched in Fall 2016, where all Bio Sci freshmen with a math SAT score equal to or less than 600 were required to enroll in the EASE program. EASE students received supplemental instruction from a senior Bio Sci major, increased academic counseling, and opportunities to interact with faculty. Using a fuzzy regression discontinuity (RD) design, we examine the impact of EASE on a variety of student academic outcomes, including course performance in gateway biology courses and retention within the Biological Sciences major, as well as noncognitive measures, such as sense of belongingness, motivation, and attitudes regarding science. Our results indicate that program participation increased students’ academic performance and sense of belonging substantially. These results provide compelling evidence that learning communities can support at-risk populations when implemented with a high level of fidelity.
About AHSIE: The Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institution Educators (AHSIE) exists to support the work of the nation’s Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) as they seek to provide quality, relevant educational opportunities to large and growing numbers of underserved populations, particularly Hispanic students. All of the Alliance’s activities directly benefit practitioners and educators at HSIs through measures that involve cooperation, networking, partnerships, information-sharing, technical assistance and collaboration. Members of the Alliance share professional development opportunities, find technical assistance for the implementation of Title V funding and other capacity-building projects and use an annual national conference as a forum to disseminate “best practices” for improving educational outcomes for students. In addition, the Alliance also fosters cooperation and collaboration among member institutions in order to produce more competitive grant applications to federal agencies that provide funding for higher education. The Alliance will also act as a liaison between federal agencies and its member institutions.
About Di Xu: Dr. Di Xu is an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine. She researches the labor market returns to different degree programs and major areas in higher education. She is also conducting research to explore the impacts of educational programs, interventions, and instructional practice on student course performance, persistence, and degree completion. Dr. Xu earned a PhD in economics and education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She received a BA in English literature from Peking University in China and holds an MA in sociology and education from Teachers College and an MA in applied linguistics from the University of Cambridge, UK. Her research interests include economic returns to higher education, financial aid to higher education, and the use of quantitative research methods in evaluating the effects of governmental policies and projects on educational equity and efficiency.