Colleges

Spotlight: UC Berkeley

In this Knack Spotlight, we’re featuring how the University of California, Berkeley is fostering student success. Their efforts are so comprehensive that we found three powerhouse resources that are dedicated to the cause: the Student Learning Center, the Transfer Student Center, and Berkeley Connect.

What do all three of them have in common? First, they’ve all been around for a while. The Transfer Student Center just celebrated their 20th anniversary, and the Student Learning Center is almost 50 years old. Furthermore, each resource puts an emphasis on helping students “navigate the academic and cultural landscape” of UC Berkeley. In fact, diversity and inclusion is a big theme in how each service is designed to support students, which is reflected in the language on their respective websites. Finally, all three programs include some form of peer support, whether by tutors, mentors, or peer groups.

With so much to love, let’s dive into what makes UC Berkeley stand out when it comes to supporting holistic student success. 

Feature #1: The Student Learning Center

What’s amazing about the Student Learning Center (SLC) at UC Berkeley? Their commitment to diversity, their well-designed programs, and their incredible impact. 

The SLC’s commitment to diversity is evident in their mission statement: “The Student Learning Center supports a global community of learners as they navigate the cultural expectations and academic rigor of UC Berkeley. Through service models that honor their diverse starting points and meet them where they are, we aim to empower all students to realize their full academic potential and aspirations.” In addition, one of their five core values is to “respect diverse ways of knowing and learning.”

The SLC offers twelve incredible programs to Berkeley students. These include subject areas like economics and science, and higher-level skills like research and strategic learning. Among these is an international student program, which “co-facilitates new and existing academic support services to enhance the learning experiences of international students.” Part of what the SLC takes pride in is their “culturally informed approach to collaborative peer pedagogy.”

Lastly, the SLC is making a rather sizable impact. According to their website, they are the primary academic support resource for UC Berkeley and have served 80,000 students since they were founded in 1973. They serve close to 10,000 undergrads each year, which is more than 30% of their entire undergraduate student population. This is especially impressive considering the SLC is staffed almost entirely by other undergraduates. In fact, the SLC employs 300 trained undergraduate tutors, which is reflective of their belief in “peer collaboration as the touchstone of academic and personal success,” and their mission of “undergraduate empowerment.”

In addition to the aforementioned services, the SLC also manages the Summer Bridge Program (supporting 400+ students), advises campus honor societies, and serves as a liaison for the DeCal program (involving 300+ courses).

Feature #2: The Transfer Student Center

The Transfer Student Center (TSC) offers support for UC Berkeley’s transfer population. These 6,700+ students make up 22% of all undergraduates, according to Berkeley News. In addition to being ethnically diverse, the transfer population includes parents, veterans, and formerly incarcerated individuals. The average age is 24 and approximately 43% are first-generation college students.

TSC Director Lorena Valdez shared with Berkeley News that a major challenge for transfer students is that they have a short time until graduation, so the services they provide are always in high demand. When the article was published in late October, the center had already reported 5,700 visits, served 1,300 unique students, and had to turn away 300 students for their “Transitioning to Cal” course. It’s no wonder that students love the TSC, seeing as those who use the center have GPAs and graduation rates that are in line with those of the non-transfer student population.

Another noteworthy aspect of the TSC is their holistic approach to student success. In 2015, a GOLD (Giving Opportunities and Leadership Development) student fee was approved by students to increase “holistic support for non-traditional students,” including transfers. This fee allowed for the expansion of the Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence, which is the umbrella organization under which the TSC resides.

Click here to see all of the programs and services that the TSC provides for transfer students at UC Berkeley.

Feature #3: Berkeley Connect

Since Knack is all about building student relationships that enable learning and support, we had no choice but to include Berkeley Connect in this spotlight post. Certain academic departments participate in the program, which provides students with a graduate student mentor, while also connecting them with peers who have similar academic interests and helping them foster relationships with professors and alumni. 

Unsurprisingly, Berkeley Connect is focused on connection. The program aims to make a big campus feel more accessible, while enabling academic exploration and driving student success. Their website explains that Berkeley Connect “combines the intellectual strength of UC Berkeley with the supportive community that you might find at a small liberal arts college.”

Each semester, participating students engage in one-on-one advising sessions with their mentor, small group discussions with peers related to a specific academic interest, events with professors and alumni, and campus field trips. Students also earn one unit of “pass/not pass” credit for each semester they participate. The pitch to students is to join a community where you can “gain confidence, make connections, and build a clearer path towards your post-college career.”

What’s the impact of Berkeley Connect? Participation in the program increases students’ sense of belonging and improves academic performance, with a particularly significant improvement in grades and retention rates for transfer and underrepresented student populations. The unique structure of the program enables a large-scale mentoring effort that currently serves 1,500 students each semester. 

How do these students feel about Berkeley Connect? An impressive 91% say that it helps increase their sense of belonging at Berkeley, 91% cite an increased confidence that they can succeed at Berkeley, and 94% reported increased awareness of available educational resources. In addition, 96% of participants would recommend the program to a friend. You can hear from the personal stories of program alumni and mentors on the Berkeley Connect website

How can Knack help your academic and support programs make a bigger impact? Head over to joinknack.com/colleges to find out. 

Written by Priya Thomas

Priya Thomas is a wellness and leadership development director and consultant with 15 years of experience in higher education and student affairs. Her expertise includes wellness, mental health, student leadership and involvement, and fraternity and sorority life. She enjoys discovering local restaurants, travel, and learning new things. Connect with her on Twitter.