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VCU Shows Congress How Intrusive Advising Can Help Achieve Equity in Higher Ed

Are colleges and universities in Virginia equitable? Or should the federal government be doing more to achieve racial and income equity?

One of the reasons some colleges and universities may be falling behind on equity is that advisors aren’t pushy enough. Leaders at Virginia Commonwealth University are trying to change that, moving forward with what they call an “intrusive advising model.”

Testifying before the House Education and Labor Committee, VCU vice Provost Tomika LeGrande told members of Congress VCU is creating new and aggressive advising positions on its payroll.

“And I think when our leadership at the institution realized that we had advising ratios that were as high as 1,700 to one advisors that did not offer us the kind of intrusive experience that these students need,” she says.

An intrusive experience to make sure they set themselves up for a job down the line and avoid dropping out. That’s how VCU was able increase graduation rates 8 percent — with a 9 percent rate of improvement for students of color.

Committee Chairman Bobby Scott of Newport News says the rising cost of college and the weakening power of Pell grants is causing a major imbalance of opportunity.

“White students also complete college degrees at more than one and a half times the rate of black students," explains Scott. "In short, those who would benefit the most from completing college are the least likely to do so.”

Scott says one way to help increase equity in higher ed would be for Congress to invest more in Pell grants. Back in 1980, he said, a Pell grant could pay for three-quarters of a college education. These days, he says, it covers less than a third.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.