Wright College, an urban open-access community college, independently accredited within the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) system, is a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) with one of the largest community college enrollments of Hispanic students in Illinois. Wright College’s student success rates measured by completion have been strong and improving relative to other national urban community colleges, but are below state and national averages.
In 2015 the college piloted a selective guaranteed admission program, Engineering Pathways (EP), to one of the nation’s top engineering schools (The Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, UIUC). Initial results for the small first-year cohort were very positive: 89% transfer rate and all students who transferred to UIUC graduated. The program’s initial success rested on a) cohort model with a small number of students and strong controls; b) co-branding that attracted local students interested in pursuing engineering at UIUC who might not otherwise have enrolled at Wright; c) academic rigor (small class size with Wright College’s curricula matching UIUC); d) robust student support services and structures; and e) a holistic college commitment to equity and inclusive excellence.
Wright College obtained a National Foundation Science (NSF)-HSI research grant in 2018 to support the Engineering Pathways. The grant examines EP students’ self-efficacy and sense of belonging. Wright College foregrounds student “belonging” in its equity efforts. Equity work calls for the systemic analysis and tracking of student performance, engagement and participation throughout the student life-cycle, with data-informed analysis of behavior and outcomes through a lens of race, gender and wealth. EP students shared similar racial and ethnic backgrounds as Wright College’s non-engineering students. They attended the same elementary and public schools, have similar family structures, socioeconomic status (SES) and supports.
NSF resources assisted Wright College’s creation of a contextualized engineering summer bridge and a more structured pre-engineering program. As enrollment in the EP program increased, the college dedicated additional resources, including faculty, enhanced student support, and guaranteed junior-level transfer to other nearby baccalaureate engineering schools. Central to the effort was significantly greater structure and monitoring of student performance, including academic and support frameworks for non-EP students. Wright College and baccalaureate transfer institutions reviewed and updated articulation agreements. In the Engineering Summer Bridge Program’s first two years, forty-five (45) students who would otherwise have been denied admission to EP are thriving and are positioned to transfer to four-year engineering programs.
In this paper, Wright College will review the college’s equity efforts, the structure and implementation of the Engineering Pathways, and the creation of new engineering transfer programs. It will explore visible and invisible barriers to students’ success, contrasting students in Wright College’s EP program with other Wright College students. The authors argue that the systemic pursuit of equity, particularly with a focus on self-efficacy, belonging, and the creation of an environment committed to inclusive excellence, will result in very strong student outcomes.