November 18, 2021

By Debra Neutkens | White Bear Press|

WHITE BEAR LAKE — Century College is the recipient of a $1 million grant designed to keep a diverse student body in school. 

The White Bear Lake-based Manitou Fund awarded the money in support of Start Right, an innovative success program that identifies students within vulnerable populations and provides intentional intervention through their first year of school.

Implementation is anticipated spring of 2022 for the program, which will afford dedicated specialists who provide students with individual support and connections to just-in-time resources so they don’t feel lost. In addition, Century plans to partner with area high schools to identify students early who can transition into the Start Right program upon entry to the college.

The goal is to curb a high attrition rate that first year when students are most at risk for dropping out. “We frame it this way,” said Century President Angelia Millender: “We want to improve persistence rates from the time students enter in the fall to the next semester. Once they persist through spring, we retain them to the second fall. If we do that, the second-fall student retains at our highest level. 

“But what happens is we lose too many students that first semester,” Millender maintained. “When you add components of demographics, disparities, students of color and low socioeconomic conditions, regardless of race and ethnicity, you lose them at even higher rates.”

Actual statistics from Millender’s office show students who enroll full time (12 credits) retain at 51%, and students who enroll part time (1-11 credits) retain at 42% at the end of their first fall semester. Regardless of enrollment status — full or part time — first-time-in-college students are retained at an overall rate of 47% at the end of their first fall semester.

The Manitou Fund is the sole contributor to the two-year program. Spokesmen Oliver Din, president, and Greg McNeely, trustee, stated that the foundation is pleased to support Century’s new Start Right initiative. “We look forward to positive outcomes through the enhancement of student learning experiences,” they said in an email to the Press.  

As one of the largest two-year colleges in the state, Century serves nearly 16,400 credit and non-credit students every year. The diverse population has 42% students of color. The college is an “open access” institution, meaning there are no entrance requirements.

Millender said she felt an exciting synergy in the meeting with Din and McNeely. “I feel like we were in the right place at the right time,” she commented. “This support from the Manitou Fund helps us ensure our first-time-in-college students get through the first year, which is the rockiest. We can start something really great here in White Bear Lake and Minnesota through this partnership. I firmly believe when students start right, they finish right.” 

Share the Music program 

There is a second part to the Manitou Fund’s philanthropy. 

A new Share the Music program will offer music outreach to seniors as a way to brighten the upcoming and future holiday season. Small groups of Century College Music Department students, supported by their music instructors and accompanists, will perform in the White Bear Lake area thanks to a $15,000 grant from the foundation.

The importance of such a music outreach program is twofold: senior residents in institutional settings, ranging from independent living to assisted living to memory care, benefit greatly from live music experiences, and music students gain performance experience and learn the value of sharing their music with audiences in senior living and community settings.

The student musicians and their accompanists will be paid honorariums for time spent in preparation, rehearsals and in performance.

The goal is to start the program this holiday season. Senior care facilities wishing to book a performance can contact Century’s Share the Music coordinator, Elliot Wilcox, at