June 16, 2014 | 8:57 a.m.
By Tricia Theurer, Communications Specialist
Bethel has partnered with Degrees of Change, a nonprofit organization that focuses on leadership development, academic scholarships, and recruitment and retention of underrepresented students, in an initiative called ActSix, which supports increased enrollment of underserved populations and has had great success in the Pacific Northwest. Bethel aims to enroll seven to 10 students in the program in fall 2015.
Edee Schulze, vice president for student life, explains that through ActSix, Bethel hopes to “empower leaders from underserved populations as well as increase retention and grad rates for first-generation and low-income students.” About five years ago, she began researching the ActSix program in the Pacific Northwest. She describes the young men and women who have enrolled in the program as “bright” and the program “highly competitive,” with partner colleges receiving 300-400 applicants for approximately 80 awards.
President Jay Barnes concurs. “If ActSix is as successful in Minnesota as it has been in Washington and Oregon, it will dramatically increase our recruitment and graduation of underrepresented students. Bethel is very committed to increasing success for students of color and this is an important investment in continuing our progress.”
The name "ActSix" refers to the biblical book of Acts, chapter 6, where believers learn the importance of caring for the needs of underserved communities and empowering leadership from those same communities. Explains Leah Fulton, associate dean for Intercultural Student Programs and Services, “ActSix operates on the same principle—empowering young people from underserved communities to change their neighborhoods through education and leadership development. We have a wonderful example to learn about what it looks like to listen well as a Christian community.”
As part of its agreement, Bethel, along with Augsburg College in Minneapolis and the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, will partner with a community affiliate to identify and reach potential applicants from underserved populations who might be strong candidates for college, including students of color, students from low-income families, and those who would be first-generation college graduates.
The community partner of the Twin Cities ActSix program is Urban Ventures, a faith-based nonprofit that strives to break the cycle of generational poverty in Minneapolis. The partnership model is structured so that the local community organization capitalizes on its existing relationships with underrepresented and underserved populations. After the applicants go through the admissions and acceptance process, Bethel, using a combination of existing financial aid and other grants, will provide them with full scholarships for four years. In addition to financial support, students will receive academic guidance and preparation, mentoring, and ongoing leadership and community development opportunities throughout their time at Bethel. A key goal of the program is that after graduation from college, “the students will give back to the community and make their impact there,” says Schulze.
Bethel leaders recently met with school officials in the Pacific Northwest who are part of that area’s ActSix program and were impressed with the strides they have made. Schulze says, “Their outcomes are compelling. They are higher than those of our general student body.” Outcomes include:
- 89% of the scholars who started college have graduated or are still enrolled
- 84% of first graduates are working or serving in their communities
- 27% of first graduates are pursuing or have earned a graduate degree
- 90+% of alumni make an annual financial gift back to ActSix
Ruben Rivera, Bethel’s interim chief diversity officer, says that Bethel has a huge opportunity to make a difference. “The ActSix program has the potential to be the most successful single investment in Christ-centered diversity efforts in the history of Bethel,” he says. “I truly believe that Bethel University is seeking to enter a new era regarding its commitment not just to increasing the diversity of underrepresented, first-generation college students and students of color, but the academic success and leadership development of those students that will pay dividends on our campus and communities long into the future. I hope that everyone catches the vision.”
The ActSix recruitment process will take place from July through October 2014. The application process will take place from November 2014 to February 2015, with students expected to begin their Bethel education in fall 2015.