By: 
Thomas W. Durso
Honoree: 
California State University, San Bernardino

With just 1,400 beds serving a student population of 19,000, California State University, San Bernardino, is the classic commuter campus.

As part of a transition to a stronger on-campus student experience, officials have launched a residential-life initiative to provide math preparation and engage students in campus life before they even begin taking classes.

Only 8 percent of students who entered the university needing remedial math instruction were graduating within four years, says William Vanderburgh, associate vice president and dean of undergraduate studies.

So, a few years ago, the university developed a three-week summer program for incoming freshman needing extra help. A full 92 percent of them jumped a level in mathematics readiness—an uncommon achievement among schools prepping students for college-level math.

Encouraged by that success, the university is rolling out Coyote First STEP (Student Transition Enhancement Program) this summer. It requires all incoming freshmen with remedial math needs to live in on-campus housing for a month, receive math and English instruction, and participate in co-curricular programming meant to increase their chances of graduating on time.

“As a commuter campus we needed to increase our sense of belonging and student engagement,” Vanderburgh says. “We wanted to give our freshmen a chance to live on campus, if only for a few weeks.”

Inside the Program

  • Cohorts of 22 incoming freshmen taking summer classes together get enrolled in classes together in the fall, too.
  • Co-curricular programming covers a variety of success topics, including financial literacy, study skills, degree planning, career prep and service learning.
  • Students receive support from peer mentors and advisors.

Coyote First STEP involves close collaboration between the university’s academic affairs and student affairs divisions. This is something that doesn’t happen often enough in higher education, Vanderburgh says.

Weekly problem-solving and program development meetings are attended by representatives of various academic departments, the peer mentoring program, advising center, dean of students’ office, student leadership, admissions, registrar’s office, housing and residential life, among others.

The university offers Coyote First STEP free of charge to all participants. That’s a $3 million commitment—but with the students in the region earning college credentials at a rate far below the national average, bold steps are necessary, says Vanderburgh.

“Business as usual won’t work, in our opinion. That’s why we want to make sure we’re able to deliver this program to students in a way that won’t burden them and that gives them a significant advantage in completing their degrees on time.”