Iowa State University
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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

02-28-07

Contacts:

Laura Rendón, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, (515) 294-7093, lrendon@iastate.edu

Mike Ferlazzo, News Service, (515) 294-8986, ferlazzo@iastate.edu

ISU educational leadership chair addresses today's underserved students

AMES, Iowa -- College and university leaders agree on the need to provide greater post-secondary access to the nation's "underserved" students. But they can't always agree on who the "underserved" are.

They're not just first-generation, low-income students -- those typically identified as underserved -- according to Laura Rendón, professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University. She identified four categories of underserved students in her recent paper for the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative.

In "Reconceptualizing Success for Underserved Students in Higher Education," Rendón describes the underserved as:

  • First-generation, low-income students -- those who grow up in poverty and attend resource-poor schools.
  • Generation 1.5 students -- children of immigrants who are foreign born and partially educated abroad and in the U.S.
  • Students enrolled in distance learning courses in both non-profit and for-profit sectors.
  • Students enrolled in for-profit institutions -- working adults who consider themselves either underserved or not served well by traditional colleges and universities.

"If anything can be said for sure about higher education students today, it is that they are diverse in multiple ways -- gender, race/ethnicity, generational status, class, residential and immigrant status, academic preparation, religion/spirituality, age, language, needs, ability and disability, learning style preference and world view," she wrote. "These students enroll in diverse learning contexts both on and off campus and access courses and programs of studies in multiple ways."

Because of the growing number of underserved student groups, Rendón urges higher education leaders to become more engaged in transforming their academic and social structures to accommodate the changing needs of today's students.

"Reconceptualizing success for these students requires revising entrenched methodological approaches and theoretical views about them," she wrote. "Student success should be conceptualized in a more holistic fashion with an emphasis not only on intellectual, but also on social, emotional and spiritual development. The idea is to bring educators and policymakers to think more deeply about what it means to be an educated person in the world today."

Rendón says it's important to examine why specific groups of students have historically been underrepresented. Lack of access to quality schooling and health care, discrimination toward students of color and perpetuation of poverty are among the reasons.

She also reports that current notions of "fit" through social and academic integration do not take into account that most postsecondary environments are not fully set up for underserved students.

"It's one thing to say we need to change what's going on in the classroom and in terms of programming for these students, and another thing to look at what we're actually providing -- particularly for underserved students," Rendón said.

"Today's new students are not necessarily prepared for the traditional way we do things," she said. "We need to rethink the way we deliver postsecondary education to these students."

Standing in the way of progress for underserved students, according to Rendón, are educational policymakers fixated on quantitative measures as the only means of providing "hard core" evidence of success. She points out that qualitative research -- including face-to-face interviews -- can provide more in-depth information that can be used to identify key experiences that can later be quantified.

Some schools are beginning to adapt to the needs of today's underserved. At Iowa State, such programs as the Hixson Opportunity Awards, Women In Science and Engineering (WISE), Leadership through Engineering Academic Diversity (LEAD) Learning Community, and the Multicultural Vision Program have been created to address some of those needs.

But while necessary changes are occurring, Rendón emphasizes the need for more to be done.

"The challenge is to do things quite differently in the face of a student population that defies homogeneity and seeks to realize an education that values them as capable knowers, and views them as whole human beings," she wrote in her report.

Rendón is currently writing her first book on contemporary teaching strategies.

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Laura Rendón

Laura Rendón

Quick look

Laura Rendón, professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State, identified four categories of underserved students in her recent paper for the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative titled "Reconceptualizing Success for Underserved Students in Higher Education."

Quote

"Today's new students are not necessarily prepared for the traditional way we do things. We need to rethink the way we deliver postsecondary education to these students."

Laura Rendón