Seth Wingerter stands and speaks in front of a book case

Student Body Vice President Seth Wingerter is a co-author of the social mobility report. 

Student Senate’s Ad Hoc Committee on Social Mobility released a 24-page report with 12 recommendations for the University of Kansas to retain and recruit Pell Grant eligible students. 

One of the recommendations calls for Chancellor Douglas Girod to open a task force to review the suggestions and make some additional recommendations to address the issue of social mobility at the University.

“To really implement any kind of solutions, we need a committed partner from the Chancellor’s Office,” Committee Chair Martin Vazquez said. “We realize that a lot of these need to be evaluated further and we as students just can’t make that effort ourselves and having a partnership with the University is necessary.” 

The committee, which consists of nine students and two faculty members, was formed in September 2019, after a U.S. News and World Report ranked the University fourth to last in social mobility out of 381 schools. 

Social mobility has been a consistent issue at the University, said Student Body Vice President Seth Wingerter, a co-author of the report. In their research, committee members found a consistent approximate 20% gap in fourth-year retention rates between Pell Grant-eligible students and students who didn’t receive federal aid or loans from 2005-2015. 

While the University’s previous strategic plan increased four-year graduation rates, it did not succeed in retaining students with Pell Grants and Stafford Loans, Wingerter said. 

Wingerter said the University has the resources to support Pell Grant eligible students, but needs to reorganize them. 

“There are plenty of people who are putting their life and their heart and soul into supporting these students,” Wingerter said. “I think it needs to take a strategic revisioning of how we’re approaching this problem.” 

One of the ways the committee recommends for the University to do this is by establishing a centralized social mobility office to direct students to the right resources for the issues they’re facing on campus, instead of having students go through multiple departments. The committee hopes for part of the office to include crisis management, Vazquez said. 

“Having this consolidated office will help really get pre-existing units and resources the collaboration necessary to make a more comprehensive social mobility effort on campus,” Vazquez said. 

The recommendations are split into two charges — one for before students attend the University and one for students already on campus. 

The committee members also recommended expanding orientation programming to include all at-risk incoming KU students, similar to OPTIONS, a five-day residential program for TRIO-eligible incoming freshmen to help with their transition from high school to the University. 

“We already have the resources,” Wingerter said. “It’s just about strategically positioning them in the eyes of the students.” 

Other recommendations the committee proposed in the report include the following: 

  • Mandating the centralization of all scholarships into

  • Recalibrating to a more flexible admission standard deemphasizing standardized testing

  • Making transportation more readily accessible, including the route from Kansas City, Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri

  • Reevaluating recruiting boundaries and tactics, which includes making a more intentional effort in identity-conscious recruiting

  • Supporting students just outside of Pell Grant eligibility

  • Investing more into individualized case management

  • Providing additional funding for more personnel within TRIO

  • Increasing funding specifically for professional development. 

  • Requiring campus entities pertaining to social mobility to give yearly retention and data reports

  • Having students who withdraw from the University fill out a withdrawal survey

  • Increasing KU Mentoring participation among students

The report has been sent to Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer and Girod as well as campus partners interviewed for it, Wingerter said.

“We realized that we’re a Student Senate ad hoc committee,” Wingerter said. “We’re not operating with perfect information. We feel good about the information we put together but ultimately, administration is going to have to be the one to get behind it and actually enact the recommendations.”

—Edited by Madeleine Rheinheimer