“A National Movement for Change in Higher Education”

Coker College and the Yes We Must Coalition

Gloria Nemerowicz, president of the Yes We Must Coalition (YWMC), coined the term ‘new student majority’ to describe the substantial numbers of first-generation students, students coming from under-resourced high schools, underrepresented students and adult-age students that have been appearing in increasing numbers on college campuses across the United States. “This is really who we are now,” says Nemerowicz.

These evolving student demographics mean that today’s college students face a different set of challenges than previous generations. The YWMC strives to increase low-income and underrepresented students’ college-degree attainment at small, independent, not-for-profit colleges and universities, and currently has 32 member institutions, including Coker College. YWMC member institutions are making tremendous strides to improve and expand services for today’s students in an effort to identify and eliminate achievement gaps so more and more students persist to graduation.

“The work is so critical to the future of our nation and obviously to the students who are enrolled.”

“I call it a national movement for change in higher education that’s really being led by schools like Coker,” says Nemerowicz. “The work is so critical to the future of our nation and obviously to the students who are enrolled.”

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that, “Plenty of freshly minted high-school graduates go off to college straight away. But many students are old enough to be those teens’ parents, seeking to retool their skill set or start new careers while holding down jobs and taking care of families. More students are over 24, and nearly one-third of all college students now attend part-time....Even those not returning to school mid-career are more likely to be working, picking up jobs at local shops and restaurants and anywhere else they can earn a paycheck to offset living expenses and tuition bills. Ten-percent of students enrolled full-time work at least 35 hours a week, while nearly half of part-time students hold full-time jobs.”

Student success initiatives are becoming critical components of college life, helping to close achievement gaps that oftentimes hinder a college student’s persistence to graduation.

The new student majority has numerous obstacles to overcome in an effort to graduate from college. Eliminating those gaps and increasing the rate of degree completion are a growing mission for colleges and universities everywhere. Student success initiatives are becoming critical components of college life, helping to close achievement gaps that oftentimes hinder a college student’s persistence to graduation.

“The college landscape is constantly changing––we’re in a state of greater access and opportunity,” says Coker College President Dr. Robert Wyatt. “It’s up to us to ensure that students have the resources and tools needed to turn their Coker experience into a success story. The data shows that student success initiatives and programs help provide a fundamental support system for all our students, and that’s all the more reason to keep pushing forward.”

When Nemerowicz reflects on the significance of student success initiatives, she sees the bigger picture, “If you look at some of the practices and policies and delivery forms of education, especially higher education, it hasn’t [always] been student-centered. It’s been institution-centered or faculty-centered, and now these colleges are moving to be more student-centered, [keeping] more of an eye on what helps the student in terms of the relationship to the material being presented, the way it’s presented—interactively instead of by lecture, flexibility in scheduling...because it accommodates the needs of the student. The institutions that are at their heart student-centered, like Coker, that’s good for all students that attend because you’re being responsive to the learner, and all good education theory tells you that that increases learning.”

"The institutions that are at their heart student-centered, like Coker, that’s good for all students that attend because you’re being responsive to the learner..."

The YWMC is bringing attention and much-needed funding to critical areas of higher education, such as persistence to graduation. YWMC was recently awarded a three-year, $990,545 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will allow the organization to reach new members, facilitate more collaborative projects, and provide support for member institutions.

“This new funding will help the Coalition to deepen the collaborative efforts of our national network of colleges and universities in order to implement changes necessary for the success of underrepresented students,” says Nemerowicz.

Six collaborative YWMC projects are already underway, one of which is helping STEM majors in need of financial assistance persist to graduation. This five-year, $4.4 million initiative is funded by the National Science Foundation and involves five additional YWMC member institutions; Coker College is the lead institution.

A post-secondary degree is becoming a necessity for upward mobility in the United States. The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “In 2016, college graduates earned 56.6% more than their counterparts with just high-school diplomas...That is the highest wage gap recorded since at least 1973, according to an analysis by the non-profit Economic Policy Institute.”

“It doesn’t matter what opportunities you did or didn’t have growing up; you should be able to come to Coker College, get an education, graduate, and do well in life,” says Brianna Douglas, Vice President of Student Success at Coker. “Everyone has an opportunity here.”

"Coker is uniquely positioned to be one of the colleges that makes a real difference.”

“Let’s remind ourselves of the responsibility of higher education, and Coker College in particular, to prepare students to contribute to a more just, more equitable, and more inclusive world,” says Tracy Parkinson, Vice President for Strategic Partnerships and Special Assistant to the President at Coker College. “In so doing, let’s continue to strive for a campus community that is committed to the well-being of all of its students––one that models the respect for the ‘dignity of every human being’ articulated in our catalog….Coker is uniquely positioned to be one of the colleges that makes a real difference.”

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