Immediately upon meeting Janine Baeza, ‘17, it was clear she was at home in her new role as recruitment and retention coordinator for the UNI Center for Urban Education (UNI-CUE) Panther Promise Program (3P).
The brainchild of UNI-CUE executive director Robert Smith, 3P was recently established (fall 2018) out of a desire to help Iowa students gain better access to the UNI campus. Looking back at his own time as a student-athlete, Smith knew that in athletics recruiting, students were meeting with coaches who were bending over backwards to not only ensure they had everything they needed to enroll in an institution, but also to succeed throughout their academic journey and graduate.
Why not utilize the same mindset for minority and non-traditional students?
“Minority and non-traditional students, they don’t understand what college is,” Smith said. “Historically, [they] never had access to higher education. If you don’t have anyone in your family who went to college, you don’t know the process to enroll in a university or understand how it can make you more productive.”
3P focuses on building solid relationships between UNI recruiters, like Baeza, and Iowa high school principals, guidance counselors and teachers. Eligible juniors and seniors are brought on personalized visits to the UNI campus where they receive financial advising, customized academic workshops and access to apply to UNI free of charge. Last fall, the program brought about 1,800 students to campus.
And the relationship doesn’t stop there. As students are accepted and transition to university life, 3P participants will remain connected to that same recruiter/advisor throughout their college career. Baeza explained, “Our role is not only to recruit (these students) but to see them all the way through the process...from the time they’re a junior in high school all the way through their four years or more at UNI until they graduate.”
Targeting a mix of urban and rural schools, 3P has thus far brought students from 21 schools to the UNI campus. With over 400 in the state, they know they have a long way to go.
Access to higher education is becoming increasingly difficult for all students across Iowa. But Baeza points out, “achievement gaps begin as opportunity gaps and lead to pervasive disparities that affect graduation rates, financial security and lifelong wellness. All people have barriers - some are just easier to overcome than others.”