LAFAYETTE – A new program at UL is providing ways for students from low-income families to stay in school.
It’s called the Louisiana Educate Program (LEP), and it provides much more than financial support for its students.
“Um, I’m going to be honest; UL wasn’t my first choice,” freshman Ma’Jai Russell laughed.
But when UL made an offer she couldn’t resist, Russell, a chemical engineering freshman, decided to enroll because of the Louisiana Educate Program.
“My cousin, she always told me education is my key out of living in low-income, so I’ve always valued my education,” she said.
Russell grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, looking for chances at success.
“It was like, you know, family, money issues and everything. And like, police always riding around because there’s always someone getting killed or something, so it was like, I don’t want to live in this neighborhood. I want a family, and I don’t want them around so much violence,” she said.
This program has given her that opportunity to pursue a good education.
“Ma’Jai is really special; she’s really gifted in math. She’s always getting her top study hall hours. She’s always getting on our top achievers’ list,” said the academic success coach for the program, Rachel B. Sam.
The program currently started with 45 freshmen. It is modeled similarly after the program for Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns athletes, who have their own academic success coaches and list of requirements.
Sam said it all started when the VP of Enrollment Management, Dr. DeWayne Bowie, realized the retention rate for students from low-income households was low.
“Students with an estimated financial contribution (EFC) of 0 were not graduating. So, our retention rate was not as high as we expected. However, many of the black students in the athletic program with an EFC of 0 had a graduation rate of about 75%. Our current retention rate of students, not in the athletic program, with an EFC of 0 is about 35%,” she said.
Aside from providing financial aid, there’s a list of requirements that help guide their students through all the different aspects of college, from mandatory study hall to keeping them involved.
“They get a special advisor, a financial aid coordinator, a scholarship coordinator. So, from academic success support, they meet with me weekly. They have to do study hall hours every week. They also have to get involved with at least one social and one professional organization,” said Sam.
“I think Ms. Rachel is the best. I know sometimes I’m supposed to talk about my classes, but I talk to her about my personal problems, too,” said Russell.
The program launched earlier this semester and because of all the applications, they expect to accept double the amount next year.
“They’re very motivated. They want to be successful. They want to have a career. They want to have a family. They’re just regular kids who want an opportunity
Right now, all the students in LEP are from New Orleans charter schools after a private donor stepped in to fund it.
The university says they hope to not only continue this program but also expand who is eligible.