Mason receives equity grant to help students of color earn college degrees

Commencement 2014. Photo by Alexis Glenn/Creative Services/George Mason University
Spring Commencement 2014. Photo by Creative Services

For its commitment to inclusive excellence, George Mason University is among a group of eight institutions to receive a grant from the Indianapolis, Indiana-based Lumina Foundation to support students of color and higher education equity efforts in Virginia.

“We are very excited to be partners with Lumina and [the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia] (SCHEV) in what we know should be a state and national priority in supporting learning, development and success for diverse student populations,” said Creston Lynch, associate dean of University Life. “This further positions us as a leader in the region when it comes to developing and achieving outcomes for students of color.”

On Feb. 9, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced in a press release that SCHEV received the $725,000 grant. Mason is one of four public university receiving $105,000 each.

Northam has set a target of increasing educational achievement for students of color by 5% by 2024, and making Virginia the best-educated state in the nation by 2030 with 70% of working-age adults earning a degree or credential.

“The disruptive impacts of the pandemic on our education system have exposed an urgent need to address achievement gaps that have long persisted in historically underserved communities,” Northam said in the release. “We are grateful for our partnership with Lumina and remain steadfast in our ongoing work to build a more inclusive commonwealth where every student has equitable access to quality, affordable postsecondary opportunities.”

“[The award] affirms our commitment to evidence-based practices that support student success,” Lynch said. “It also affirms that our mission and vision as an institution that supports the larger mission for higher education in the commonwealth.”

The funding will allow Mason to stand up programs and initiatives that will support long-term outcomes for this population.

“We hope to do that in many ways,” Lynch added. “That includes assessing and improving the overall campus climate with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence and piloting programs to enhance academic support for underserved student populations.”

Mason was named one of the most diverse schools in Virginia by U.S. News & World Report. In Fall 2020, 26% of Mason undergraduates were first-generation college students and 29% were Pell-grant eligible, with Pell-eligible students graduating at a similar pace to the overall student body.

Among the university’s many ongoing programs to support students from all backgrounds is its ADVANCE program. Last fall, the program supported 1,806 students on their path from Northern Virginia Community College to Mason, with about 60% of those students being students of color.

“Now more than ever, the work SCHEV and its institutional partners are doing is critical to eradicating unjust and unfair educational outcomes,” said Danette Howard, senior vice president and chief policy officer at Lumina Foundation. “By supporting increased attainment for Virginia’s African American and Hispanic populations and maintaining an ongoing commitment to equity in Virginia’s higher education community, we expect significant improvements for students of color across the commonwealth and models of effective equity-minded practices that can be shared nationwide.”