With a total enrollment of more than 41,000, Cal State Fullerton prides itself on serving a diverse spectrum of people well beyond the traditional college student, including exchange students, adult learners, and parents and pregnant students. To support these historically underserved student populations, CSUF launched the TAPP Center earlier this year with a goal to meet the unique needs of this segment of the student body.
Based on data collected during the 2021-2022 academic year, CSUF hosts approximately 15,500 exchange students and nearly 8,500 adult learners (over 25 years old). In addition, more than 50% of these students are low-income women and first-generation college students.
“The numbers are growing so rapidly that it’s becoming more of a traditional student population,” said Cameron Cook, CSUF director of the Transfer, Adult-Re-entry, Parenting and Pregnant Student Center.
The center officially opened in January 2022, and Cook said the first task is to survey these student populations to best determine their needs. The request received more than 4,000 responses, and Cook and his team spent the spring months researching and preparing programs that encourage engagement, create an inclusive environment, and create a sense of connection.
“Our job is to build a community on campus for these students who may never have had a community,” Cook said.
Services introduced by the TAPP Center this semester include a series of workshops covering a variety of relevant topics, including counseling, financial preparedness, mental health and wellbeing, employment support, and graduate school support.
The TAPP Center also offers programs specifically designed for CSUF parenting who have children or dependents. Last month, the center hosted a Family Welcome Back event, where students brought their families to the Student Recreation Center for a day of swimming, networking, and community building. Both the students and their families benefit from these opportunities to get involved on campus.
“For our first-generation students who are parents, if you bring your kids to campus and your kids adjust to college campuses… that will increase the likelihood that they’ll get into college, too,” Cook said. “So these are future titans, we like to think.”
In conjunction with National Transfer Student Week (October 17-21), the TAPP Center hosted a series of events to highlight and support this group of titans, including a coffee and pastry morning, luncheon and wellness workshop . The week ended with Halloween bowling night at the Titan Bowl, where students brought their families to campus for dinner, crafts and a costume contest.
“We believe (these events will) give them a stronger sense of belonging and connection to campus,” Cook said.
The TAPP Center on the second floor of Gordon Hall is undergoing a revamp later this fall with a planned spring opening. The center offers year-round programming and support and has many future plans in the works.
For transfer students, the TAPP Center attempts to preload many of the orientation-focused workshops and make them available to students once they commit to CSUF. With this idea, the TAPP Center team is also exploring opportunities for an in-resident orientation that would provide a more comprehensive onboarding experience for campus life.
One area that the TAPP Center is dedicated to improving is collecting and tracking data about the educating student population. CSUF and the TAPP Center have made it a priority to conduct a campus-wide survey in spring 2023 to better understand and serve the needs of this particular group.
Cook envisages future offerings for tutoring students, which could include working with licensed childcare workers to offer a “parents’ evening” giving those students the opportunity to prepare for midterm and final exams or enjoy a night out with their partners.
For Titan’s pregnant student population, the TAPP Center will continue to expand its coordination with CSUF’s health services and disability support services to connect these students with the resources they need during pregnancy.
Also scheduled to launch next spring is an extensive peer/mentor cohort, allowing these student populations to work alongside a team of peers who meet regularly in a hybrid format, both in person and virtually. Cook believes this model will go a long way toward fulfilling the center’s mission of building a community for these titans as they pursue their academic, personal, and professional goals.
“Higher education is more than classrooms, homework and professors,” Cook said. “It’s more than just academics. It’s about the college experience of coming to campus, engaging in programs, meeting other students, and really enjoying the campus environment. That’s what we want to build. We want to integrate them into the campus and build a community.”