Leaping Toward Success: A Study of Three Cohorts in the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program (I-LEAP) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Shondra Loggins
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Sheri Shaw
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Kirkshinta Turnipseed
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Volume: 11
Article first published online: July 29, 2009
DOI: 10.26209/MJ1161517

Keywords: advising, academic advising, adviser, advisor


Many student support service (SSS) programs implemented nationwide aim to provide additional assistance and resources to students enrolled in college. Some of the more renowned initiatives at the collegiate level were the TRIO programs. Federally funded TRIO programs were established in 1968 with the intention of increasing college retention rates for first-generation students, students from low-income families, and/or students with disabilities (Council for Opportunity in Education [COE], 2008). Over the years, these programs have become nationally known for the assistance they provide to these targeted populations. Some of the resources offered by TRIO programs and other support programs include basic skills instruction, tutoring services, personal/career counseling, and mentoring, to name a few. This article discusses the literature on student support services, explains the need for support services, and describes issues revolving around retention of minority students. These topics also serve as a foundation for engaging readers in deeper discussions about the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program (I-LEAP) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The purpose of this article is to provide insight into I-LEAP and to examine a possible correlation between students' participation in I-LEAP and their success.

Literature Review

The goal of student support programs, derived from the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (COE, 2008), was to facilitate a smooth yet successful transition for underrepresented students from high school to college and to increase the college retention and graduation rates for this population. The specific demographic breakdown of populations served by SSS programs, as reflected in an annual performance report on 1997-1998 programs, showed that “sixty percent [being] both low income and first-generation college students, thirteen percent [being] disabled (seven percent disabled only and six percent both low-income and disabled), nineteen percent [being] first-generation only and eight percent were low-income only” (U.S. Department of Education, 2004, p. 11). In order to effectively serve this population, TRIO programs were implemented to provide resources to facilitate successful transitions to college. Some common resources offered in most student support programs include basic skill instruction, advising, tutoring, and mentoring. However, each specific TRIO support service program is tailored to the specific needs of the university.

Ruiz (2008) analyzed TRIO student support services for first-generation, low-income, and disabled students by developing for comparative purposes an annotated bibliography on several student support services nationwide. The research focused on possible correlations between student retention in higher education and student support services geared toward assisting disadvantaged students such as the ones listed above. Multiple findings were based on the author's annotations. Thayer (2000) conveyed one key finding. The author found that programs emphasizing community learning and geared toward first-year students are of value because they are tailored to address the specific needs of the individual. This was consistent with other studies. For example, Walsh (2000) presented a study whose results were congruent with other key findings from the annotations presented by Ruiz (2008). The authors' study illustrated that student support services provided a more intimate relationship than what college usually offers, which is what makes student service programs unique and valuable. Ruiz (2008) concluded from her annotations that student support services are essential in bridging transitional issues that disadvantaged students sometimes experience.

One annotation from Ruiz (2008) linked the importance of student support service programs to their effectiveness. Walsh (2000) stated,

[TRIO Student Support Services] provide the mentor/counselor/friend to guide, encourage and inform students at all stages in their college careers. Some of the most effective practices of the TRIO SSS program include helping students gain career clarity, providing intensive academic planning, monitoring academic progress, developing comprehensive transfer services, offering learning enhancements, and recognizing achievements and resources that contribute to student success.

The objective of this paper was to assess and provide insight into some of the exemplary services that the TRIO student support services offer. In addition, this paper promotes TRIO programs as necessary offerings in the collegiate setting. This article utilized statistical documents to illustrate how students participating in TRIO programs stand apart from other individuals.

This paper was completed primarily as an observational study at the Kankakee Community College (KCC) in Illinois. There were several key findings in this study. Some of the effective key services were “helping students gain career clarity” (Walsh, 2000, p. 5), offering multiple options for job shadowing/internship opportunities, guiding students through their collegiate experiences by having an academic plan, making sure that the students are progressing successfully by monitoring their GPAs, and offering life-skills workshops. In addition, some statistics were provided to support the need for TRIO programs, such as: “More than 80% of TRIO students persist in their academic goals each year. The graduation rates, transfer rates, and GPA levels of these students far exceed those of similar students who are not enrolled in the TRIO program as documented in annual program evaluations” (Walsh, 2000, p. 12). This study supports the fact that TRIO services are very successful in helping students navigate through college, especially those students who are considered to be underrepresented and/or underprivileged. As shown by the success of student subjects from Kankakee Community College, TRIO programs are needed in the collegiate setting, and there are certain characteristics of TRIO programs that make them effective.

Evaluative methods can also assess the effectiveness of student support services. An effective evaluation of student support services can involve studying how well they meet the overall objective of ensuring that the retention rates of minority students remain high. Thayer (2000) examined what has been a successful protocol for the retention of first-generation and low-income students. Through a review of several colleges and universities, the author seeks to provide guidance on how to deal with this cohort of students. From the literature review, several key findings emerged, including a determination that family income plays a major role in the continuation of education. It was found that when academic ability was controlled for, those students from low socioeconomic backgrounds were less likely to enter and complete college. Moreover, first-generation students are at a disadvantage because they have limited access to key resources that can assist them, such as information about the collegiate experience from relatives, time management, budget management, and general support. Effective strategies for these individuals would focus on establishing social communities in addition to participating in programs supporting academic and social adjustment. Programs that start in the first year have shown more promise in retaining first-generation and low-income students.

This article substantiates the importance of conducting a needs assessment for students with first-generation and low-income backgrounds, because these individuals have different experiences than other students. Additional assistance, such as aid offered through the student services TRIO programs, help these individuals successfully navigate through college. To achieve more effective results, student services programs should be offered early in students' collegiate careers.

Mannie L. Jackson I-LEAP

The Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program (I-LEAP) is based in the College of Applied Health Sciences (AHS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has supported students since fall 2006. Its mission directs a student compass in the critical areas of academic skill and leadership development, civic engagement, and university integration. Through one-on-one biweekly meetings, mentorship, tutoring, workshops, and campus and community networking, students are encouraged to maximize their successes through accessibility, accountability, and individualized directed attention.

The philosophy of the Mannie L. Jackson I-LEAP initiative is to ensure that all students who have the interest and ability to earn a college degree can do so. It strives to accomplish this in a three-fold educational process: accessibility to services, student accountability, and individualized and directed attention. It continually strives to implement these principles by providing student support, assistance, and services that complement the student experience by integrating leadership, civic engagement, and personal/academic development to develop lifelong learners and leaders.

Participants in the program consist of underrepresented students within the College of AHS at the University of Illinois, including first-generation students, student athletes, President Awards Program (PAP) recipients, Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) recipients, and Illinois Promise recipients. I-LEAP provides a variety of services and initiatives to participants with the aim of helping students develop their full potential and consequently become more successful in their course work, connect to the university community, and develop leadership skills. Students receive support in areas of academic skill development, university integration, and leadership development. Some specific components of the program include a mentorship and leadership course, mentorship, workshops, tutoring, and civic engagement opportunities. The AHS 199-Mentorship and Leadership Course is a course designed for I-LEAP scholars with the intent of preparing them for their remaining academic experience at the university. AHS 199 is an interactive experiential course that explores goal setting, communication skills, change and time management, team building, civic responsibility, and transformative learning. The course encourages self-exploration and personal development as a central component of leadership.

Another facet of the program is mentorship. All first-year I-LEAP scholars receive a peer mentor who is a current I-LEAP upperclass scholar and who is selected based on career and major interests through a structured and coordinated program monitored by the program's academic skills specialist. Further resources are offered through workshops. In the MINDSET© Workshops, for example, scholars can attend a seven-part series to help them identify obstacles that might impede their academic progress. Skills discussed in the series include motivation, initiative, navigation, direction, study skills, expectation, and time management. Based on self assessments, students compose individual contracts to achieve academic success. Series sessions can be one-on-one or within a group.

Two other specific components of the program include tutoring and civic engagement that is usually obtained through community partnerships. The College of AHS, in partnership with the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA), recruited AHS high-achieving students to tutor undergraduates in departmental courses three days a week for three hours each day. Lastly, the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program has partnerships on the Illinois campus and within the Champaign-Urbana Community that allow scholars to participate in organized service activities and gain an enhanced sense of civic responsibility. Current partnerships include those with the Women in Transition and the T.I.M.E.S Center.


The Mannie L. Jackson I-LEAP initiative has supported scholars since fall 2006. To assess the effectiveness of the program, data were collected on students enrolled in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois. After preliminary collection of the data, secondary data analyses were performed comparing students who accepted invitations to participate in the I-LEAP program each academic year versus those who declined. In addition, a control group was used for further data analysis. The control group consisted of individuals in the fall 2005 class, which was enrolled before the creation of the structured program. The collection of this data allowed I-LEAP to be assessed in terms of effectiveness over time.

Results and Discussion

Comparing these groups, current scholars in I-LEAP are above-average students. Based on grade-point averages broken down by semester, I-LEAP scholars received higher marks within their first semester compared to their peers (i.e., students who began their first terms at the same time as I-LEAP students but who declined to participate in I-LEAP). For example, 32 percent of I-LEAP students earned a GPA of 3.0 or higher, while only 12 percent within the comparison group received similar marks. Overall, when comparing students who began their first terms at the same time in 2008, 17.3 percent of I-LEAP scholars obtained dean's list status, versus 7.69 percent of those in the comparison groups.

Moreover, I-LEAP scholars were less likely to receive college liability (i.e., academic probation). For example, when assessed in fall 2008, thirteen students (33.3 percent) of the students in the 2005 comparison cohort were on academic liability, whereas no students from the 2006 I-LEAP scholars cohort were assigned academic liability.

Based on data collected and assessed, I-LEAP students earned higher cumulative GPAs than the comparison groups did as of the last term attended (fall 2008). Only forty-three students in the comparison cohort groups earned cumulative GPAs of 3.0-4.0, while sixty-one I-LEAP scholars earned cumulative GPAs of 3.0-4.0. Additionally, results showed that I-LEAP scholars were less likely to have earned cumulative GPAs within college liability range (GPA 0.00-1.99) in comparison to their peers. For example, the 2005 comparison cohort included thirteen students out of thirty-nine (33.3 percent) in academic jeopardy, whereas only one 2007 I-LEAP scholar out of thirty (3.3 percent) was in academic jeopardy. Overall, comparing students who began their first terms at the same time in 2008, 61.5 percent of I-LEAP scholars obtained a cumulative GPA of 3.0-4.0 versus 46.1 percent in the comparison groups. Of the 107 total students in I-LEAP, 57 percent (N=61) successfully achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, while 94 percent (N=101) successfully achieved a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher.

Implications and Limitations

One of the major limitations of the study is that the data presented in this manuscript exclusively examines students in the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois. The university includes several other colleges (the College of Engineering, the College of Business, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and others). Future studies should focus on comparing I-LEAP scholars to students enrolled across the university. Moreover, if other colleges within the university have programs similar to the I-LEAP program, a comparison of these programs with I-LEAP could improve the validity of the study.


The Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership program (I-LEAP) has enhanced the positive educational outcomes for students enrolled in the program. As discussed in this article, underrepresented students face many challenges at the collegiate level. However, through support services such as I-LEAP, students are encouraged to “leap” toward success and take the initiative to be successful in their future endeavors. The data provided from the Mannie L. Jackson I-LEAP initiative present a correlation between participation in I-LEAP and educational success at the collegiate level, supporting the argument that there is a need for student support services.


Council for Opportunity in Education (COE). (2008). What is TRIO? Retrieved May 4, 2009, from http://www.coenet.us/ecm/AM/Template.cfm?Section=What_is_TRIO&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=6618

Ruiz, E. A. (2008). TRIO student support services: First-generation, low-income, and disabled students. UCLA community college bibliography. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 32(8), 629–635.

Thayer, P. B. (2000). Retention of students from first generation and low income backgrounds. The Journal of the Council for Opportunity in Education, 2-9.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education. (2004). A profile of the student support services program: 1997-98 and 1998-99, with select data from 1999-2000 [PDF document]. Retrieved May 4, 2009, from http://www.ed.gov/programs/triostudsupp/sssprofile-97-99.pdf

Walsh, J. (2000). Unique and effective practices for TRIO student support services. Opportunity Outlook, 12–15.

About the Author(s)

Shondra Loggins is a graduate research assistant for the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at loggins@illinois.edu.

Sheri Shaw is the director of the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program. She can be reached at snshaw@illinois.edu.

Kirkshinta Turnipseed is the assistant director of the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program. She can be reached at kturnips@illinois.edu.