October 17, 2018


students on the MSUB university campus in Fall


MSU Billings receives $2.08 million Department of Education grant

Grant to increase first year student success and retention



University Communications and Marketing, 657-2266


MSU BILLINGS NEWS—Montana State University Billings has been awarded a United States Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP) grant. The $2.08 million dollar grant aims to provide institutions with resources to better support low-income students. The SIP grant is highly competitive and awarded to less than 10 percent of applicants. MSU Billings was one of 41 institutions nationwide selected for this honor in 2018.


With this grant, MSUB will be able to transform the lives of its students through a five-year project designed to improve first-year student success and retention. “Our goal is to increase fall-to-fall freshman retention 11 percent by 2023,” says Cindy Bell, Director of Grants and Sponsored Programs.


This project is centered on improving student success initiatives in MSUB’s Academic Support Center (ASC), working closely with Student Support Services (SSS) TRiO, Advising & Career Services, Disability Support Services, Institutional Research, and the General Education Committee. These initiatives include supplemental instruction (SI), early-alert systems (EAS), peer mentoring, the bridge programs, writing center, and reading specialists.

  • SIs are peer instructors who lead small discussions and study groups for students in classes that have consistently high drop, fail, withdrawal, and incomplete (DFWI) rates. Students receive much needed support. SI has been successfully piloted at MSUB in a number of courses. The grant funds will provide for support in additional classes.
  • EAS provides information to MSUB faculty and staff regarding struggling students. The grant funds will help hire a new Retention Coordinator position to manage the EAS, so EAS can be better utilized and students can be connected quickly to the support resources they need.
  • Peer mentoring is available at MSUB through SSS TRiO. However, this federally-funded program only works with students on the university campus who are first generation college students, low-income, and/or disabled. The grant funds will allow the university to expand peer mentoring to additional students, including those at City College.
  • The Summer Bridge Program assists students who fall short of placing into college-level math and writing. The grant funds will help extend this program beyond summer through the first six weeks of the fall semester. Students will have access to support during those critical first weeks.
  • The Writing Center is focused on courses with high DFWI rates and significant writing requirements. The grant funds will be used for a Writing Center Assistant Director, who will work on improving tutoring of academic writing, pedagogy training for faculty, and workshops on writing practices and disciplinary writing. It will also provide additional tutors at both campuses.
  • The grant funds will also provide a Reading Specialist at City College who will pair co-requisite reading courses with reading-intensive General Education courses such as History, Sociology, Psychology, and Political Science.

Beyond improving first-year retention rates, MSU Billings aspires to achieve the following with the grant:

  • Reduce DFWI rates in General Education courses
  • Increase the number of at-risk students served by peer mentoring
  • Reduce the number of students who are not reading at a college level
  • Increase the use of an EAS to help identify and support students in need

A team will be assembled and begin preparation to implement services supported by the grant in the spring of 2019.


For more information contact Cindy Bell, Director of Grants and Sponsored Programs at 657-2363 or cbell@msubillings.edu