The presidents of Drexel University in Philadelphia and Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., along with their leadership teams, visited National Louis University’s Chicago campus March 7-8 as part of formulating their vision for a “mission-driven, new urban university.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a grant to the three universities, dubbing them the New Urban University Coalition and asking them to consider how the New Urban University can serve diverse, first-generation and non-traditional students. Goals include increasing retention and graduation rates and advancing the quality of life for neighboring schools and communities.
NLU leaders had visited the other universities in January and February, and NLU was enjoying its turn to showcase how it embraces non-traditional students.
After welcoming the visiting educators in Chicago Monday, NLU President Nivine Megahed, Ph.D., described how the Harrison Professional Pathways program is using a blended/flipped model, an adaptive curriculum and student success coaches to offer an undergraduate degree at a tuition that allows students to graduate with little to no debt and the preparation to undertake a meaningful career.
To show the other universities’ presidents, deans and officials how NLU is taking innovative approaches to the preparation of teachers, NLU President Nivine Megahed, Ph.D., took them on a bus tour to two Chicago elementary schools in which NLU education students are teaching.
At the first, National Teachers Academy, 55 W. Cermak Road, Principal Isaac Castelaz explained how the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) grants college-age education students a teacher residency, based on the model of a medical residency. Three NLU students who hold residencies at the school told the deans and college presidents they had a summer’s worth of education classes at NLU, then in September were dispatched to classrooms to student teach, with intensive support and mentoring from NLU and AUSL. Eighty-five percent of their elementary-age students come from high-need, poverty-level homes on Chicago’s South side.
“The program offers teachers access to professional development opportunities, and the chance to become a fantastic urban educator,” said Castelaz.
The next stop on the bus tour was to Greeley Elementary School, 832 W. Sheridan Road in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. After the college presidents and deans took chairs in the school’s library, Principal Carlos Azcoitia told them the school takes the Community Schools approach. School administrators and teachers deliberately reach out to and empower the Spanish, Russian and Polish-speaking immigrant parents, who might otherwise be too timid, or too unfamiliar with the American school system, to become advocates for their children. The school also makes efforts to become a community hub, connecting low-income parents with resources they might need, such as groceries, housing or access to health care.
“The research is clear. In schools where parents are involved, children excel academically,” said Azcoitia, who has been principal for nine years. “Parents are our partners in education. We value their input in how to build a learning community meeting the whole breadth of needs.”
National Louis University also conducted an Academy of Parents in Leadership program at Greeley School, educating parents about the American school system and how best to support their children’s academic progress.
Three of the parents who graduated from that program, all native Spanish speakers, told the visiting educators the program opened doors for them. One of them has decided to pursue his GED, and another is going to college.
Aside from the bus tour, and in the effort to spark ideas, NLU administrators and staff offered the visitors several presentations about work being done at NLU.
One session involved how NLU is using data to improve student outcomes. For example, an early warning system indicates when students start to get in trouble academically during a course. Academic coaches can then deploy to help the students before they get too far behind.
Another presentation to the visitors presented a solution to the challenge many urban and non-traditional students have in pursuing college internships. Because many need to work full-time to support themselves, they are unable to participate in internships, which so often lead to quality experiences and higher-paying jobs. An NLU dean explained to the visiting educators how NLU is partnering with a company which provides project-based micro-internships.
These present a solution—one of the types of solutions the New Urban University Coalition can pioneer to facilitate the path to graduation for urban and non-traditional students.
The New Urban University Coalition will continue to explore solutions to raise college completion rates and allow universities to offer resources to their neighboring communities.
According to the parameters of the grant, the three universities will develop a white paper outlining their observations and strategies.