Part 4: Recruiting and Retaining Underrepresented Students into Education

Author: Dr. Gilda Martinez

Last but not least, I will be talking to you about our retention strategies. In terms of figuring out what we could do to help support and retain underrepresented students, we started by having some informal 1:1 interviews with students, met with focus groups, and surveyed classes to see how we can better support them. We wanted to learn what more we might do to help them feel supported so that they could succeed in our education programs.

The main areas they identified they could use support with were mentoring and financial assistance. Therefore, we worked with our Dean’s Advisory Council and leadership teams to figure out how we might provide those supports. They suggested we start by visiting student groups, such as the various Latinx student organizations at our university. While visiting, we let students know that we were there for them and ready to help with anything they might need to succeed in college. We visited the groups a few times throughout the year to remind them that we really wanted them to feel supported and comfortable to ask questions.

The Dean’s Advisory Council also started a virtual mentoring program. How so? Well, we invited students (through emails, newsletters, social media, and on our digital screens in the halls) to ask questions or seek advice from the Dean’s Advisory Council by emailing the College of Education email. Students mostly emailed questions about:

  • signing up for programs,
  • who to contact to change classes, and
  • how to access scholarships.

We did not receive too many questions, but with everything moving fully online due to COVID-19, we anticipate that we will get many more inquiries soon.

What is our main retention issue you might ask? When looking carefully at our data, it appears once students are accepted into our programs, they are staying in them. However, students sign up for our education programs at the end of their sophomore year. Thus, when we tracked freshmen that are pre-education majors, we noticed that by the time they needed to apply to the program, half of them did not. We call this the freshmen melt. We looked at other colleges and noticed they too experience the freshmen melt. Regardless, with our declining enrollment, we wanted to zone in on this issue.

We are currently brainstorming with various groups (such as our advisors, recruitment team, and CAEP committees) to focus on this problem. One way we hope to help with retention from freshmen to sophomore year is by actively engaging students in our Educators Rising group. We also plan to share with them the opportunity of living in a Residential Learning Community (where students live on the same floor with students in their same major). Moreover, we will be highlighting funding opportunities, such as TEACH grants and other scholarships to demonstrate how they can pay for their careers in education.

If you would like to collaborate on any of these ideas, or have your own ideas you would like to share, please let me know. I am always interested in learning new ways to recruit and retain underrepresented students. I can be reached through email

Dr. Gilda Martinez-Alba is the Assistant Dean in the College of Education at Towson University, in Towson, Maryland.  Her research revolves around literacy, technology, English learners, and recruiting/retaining underrepresented students into teaching.