Countdown to College (C2C) began in 2010 as Saint Mary’s University’s response to the need for pre-college support of low-income students of color from 8th grade graduation until college acceptance.

Most C2C participants reside in urban neighborhoods where less than 50% of students graduate from high school. Now in its fifth year, C2C has seen 100% of their two first cohorts graduate from high school and 90-95% in college or accepted for fall 2015.

But that’s part of the success statistics. Let’s start at the beginning, with faculty-staff planning groups in 2009. The following pdfs document the research during that year, aimed at not only our vision of a HS prep program but also a successful program of support once they enroll at Saint Mary’s.

Academic Boot Camps: Saint Mary’s First Generation Initiative for High School Students

Faculty and staff from academic departments and student services reviewed existing college prep programs across the country in order to glean the best ideas for serving minority students from low-income urban neighborhoods.

From Matriculation To Graduation: What Predicts Success For First-Generation Students Of Color

The second faculty and staff planning group discussed how best to support first-generation students from urban areas from college entrance to graduation day.

How Successful has C2C been?

C2C success is measured in the outcomes of the students, outside evaluations, and faculty feedback.

Student Success: High school graduation and college entrance
  • 100% of the first C2C cohort graduated from high school in 2014, many of them from urban neighborhoods where the graduation rate is less than 50%.
  • 100% of the second C2C cohort are on track to graduate in June of 2015.
  • 90% of the first C2C cohort gained admission to four-year colleges and universities this past year.
Student Success: Academic gains
  • Reading comprehension scores rose an average of 21 percentile points for the first cohort, and 17 percentile points for the second group. This is an astounding increase, given that students need to make four years academic growth just to stay at the same percentile rank!
  • College credit for the C2C science course was awarded to 95% of the first cohort, and 90% of the second, based on earning a C or better on a rigorous college-level scoring system.
  • In both cohorts, the probability of needing developmental reading courses at college entrance from over 50% on entrance to C2C to less than 20% on completion, using criteria developed by the University of Minnesota.


Student Success: Feedback from College Freshman

The following comments were collected from our Freshman Scholars, the first cohort that graduated from C2C.

Question to Freshman Scholars: How did C2C help you this first semester?

  • “Coming in I knew what to expect and I also was able to see and understand how some of the teachers teach.”
  • “C2C is the best thing that has happened to me. I learned so many new ways of being a successful college student.”
  • “C2C helped by understanding that a set study time is necessary.”
  • “C2C helped me socially to communicate well with other students and lead discussions in class. The biggest skill has to be my study habits.”
  • “C2C has helped me get to know really good professors.”
  • “C2C helped me with my first semester in college by allowing me to become familiar with the campus, faculty, and some peers. By having this familiarity, I felt much more confident and was able to focus more on my studies, than adapting to the new environment.”
  • “C2C has given me the upper hand among my fellow freshman friends by giving me a sense of what to expect in each of my classes.”
Independent Evaluation

In 2015 Dr. Sandra McMakin, Dean of the Student Success Center at University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio (TX) nominated Saint Mary’s C2C program for a national Examples of Excelencia award, with the following appraisal:

“I had the opportunity to attend a C2C session that was conducted during the summer session with the students in the program. The students very clearly articulated the impact this program has had on their lives. In addition, the data and the qualitative analysis on this program clearly demonstrates a model that has a lasting impact for first generation students and their families and could be replicated at other institutions. I believe the Saint Mary’s First Generation Initiative model is a best practice for first generation student success.”

Faculty Feedback

Each year 16 Saint Mary’s instructors teach in the C2C summer program. Their experience and enthusiasm enriches their regular college classrooms during the academic year, as attested by these comments:

English/ESL professor: Having lived and traveled overseas since the age of 5 and having taught ESL for 24 years, I considered myself linguistically and culturally savvy, but by working with the C2C program, I have learned that I’m not so savvy about those from my own country. The experiences and dialects of the C2C learners have broadened my horizons and challenged me to help these students retain and be proud of their identities yet prepare them for the post-secondary world that is quite foreign to them just as their world was foreign to me.

Biology professor: Teaching in C2C had helped me to recognize the diversity of background experiences among our students and encouraged me to carefully consider analogies and examples used when describing concepts.

Writing/English professor: As a result of teaching students whose learning styles and needs are linguistically and culturally different from my own, I have changed the way I teach in the following ways: I am more intentional about the directions I give in writing assignments; I pay closer attention to the words I use, the length of my sentences, and the clarity of my instructions. I include ways for students to incorporate their own experiences in their writing so that they see how their experiences shape the direction of the paper and have the power to influence and change others’ thinking or perceptions. I set high standards, affirm students in their process of learning, and work alongside them as they reach those standards.

Chemistry professor: I now know the importance of vocabulary when writing questions for exams and quizzes. Students may have working knowledge of a complex concept, however poor choice of vocabulary on my part could prevent a student from providing a satisfactory answer. I am more aware that my educational and life experiences are not the norm; I cannot assume that my background knowledge mirrors that of my students.

Math professor: I’ve been more conscious to make sure that everybody understands the meaning of what I would consider everyday words; for example I’m called Dr. Sellke, but I don’t have a medical degree. It never dawned on me that this could be confusing. I try to allow the students time to work with their own groups of friends; but also to strategically try and mix them up. I have a difficult time saying many names correctly, but now I try to make sure the students know I’m trying, but they should feel free to correct me all semester long. In the past, I think if I started saying it incorrectly from the beginning, the students wouldn’t feel brave enough to correct me as the weeks the go by so I’ve started checking in after a week or so to make sure I did get it correct (as trying to get it right on the first day of class is ridiculous).

Faculty Presentations

One of the successful outcomes of Saint Mary’s Countdown to College program has been the acceptance of faculty papers at national and international conferences, including the following:

Lien, N., Berg-Binder, M., Lallaman, J., Anderson, J. (2014, September). An Environmental Science Curriculum to Prepare Minority High School Students for Success in STEM fields.Third International Lasallian Research Symposium. Minneapolis, MN.

Lien, N., Lallaman, J., & Anderson, J. (2013, April). University-High School Collaboration for Recruitment and Preparation of Underrepresented Minority Students. American Association of Colleges and Universities. San Diego, CA.

Anderson, J., Willis, J., Galvez, E., & Siderewicz, E. (2013, May). Countdown to College and First-Generation Scholars: Pre-collegiate and Collegiate Programs for First-Generation Minority Students. National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education. New Orleans, LA.

Siderewicz, E., & Anderson, J. Educating First-Generation College Students for Social Justice and Global Citizenship. 2012 Huether Lasallian Conference. Washington, DC.