By: 
Thomas W. Durso
Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania
Honoree: 
Villanova University

As a top-ranked national university on Philadelphia’s Main Line, Villanova can be a tough place for underrepresented students.

The university’s Diversity Blueprint, a conceptual framework and method of funding to make these goals a reality, has been helping these students succeed for more than a decade.

After realizing students were having difficulties in and outside the classroom, campus leaders took a more broad-based approach and implemented a retention program known as A.C.T.I.V.E., for “Advising, Counseling, Tutoring, Information to enhance the Villanova Experience.”

Inside the program

  • Students meet with retention staff to cover topics such as academic performance, time management, communication skills, financial literacy and navigating interpersonal communications.
  • A.C.T.I.V.E.’s peer-tutoring component requires students to find, connect with and coordinate meetings with their tutors through software designed for the university’s Center for Access, Success and Achievement.

The idea is to work from a holistic perspective, says Linda Coleman, director of the Center for Access, Success and Achievement.

“You can’t just look at academics. That won’t do it.”

A.C.T.I.V.E. students are connected with staff and student mentors.

They also attend programming to build academic and life skills, and meet regularly with retention coaches.

The success center offers a life coach and a writing tutor, and even maintains a lending library for students who can’t afford textbooks.

Villanova’s 250 A.C.T.I.V.E. students have maintained an average GPA of 3.32.

The university has bumped up the number of success center students on full scholarship from four to six, and they’re all maintaining a GPA above 2.5.

Perhaps most important, the program’s emphasis on self-advocacy and self-care is turning out graduates who see themselves much differently than they did when they entered as freshmen, says Coleman.

“Nothing is more rewarding than to see a student come in unsure of themselves and then they graduate and they’re so confident and accomplished and ready to take on the world,” she says.