Completion by Design thinks big

Completion by Design (CbD), a Gates-funded intiative to boost low-income community college students’ graduation rates, is thinking big, reports Community College Week.  For example, one third of community college students in Texas — 289,000 in all — will be enrolled in CbD programs.

Working with the Community College Research Center, CbD colleges in Texas, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida are analyzing data on barriers to student completion, then designing solutions.

Colleges are focusing on students who start in remedial courses and students who’ve earned 30 or more credits but no credential in five years. Miami Dade College will focus on students who speak English as a second language.

Students who’ve earned 30-plus credits without a credential may be waiting for admission into a selective program, such as nursing or other allied health fields, said  Nan Poppe, CbD executive director.

“Students are doing a lot of wandering,” Poppe said, adding that when the colleges took a close look at these students’ transcripts, they found that most of them “had almost no chance of getting into one of those programs.”

“Access without success is a hollow promise,” said Poppe at an Achieving the Dream meeting. Most CdB colleges also are Achieving the Dream colleges. Students need completion-focused pathways that lead to a certificate or degree, she said.

All CbD colleges hope to redesign the entry experience for new students to help them make better choices, according to Poppe. Many propose “mandatory student success courses, individualized education plans, early selection of majors, electronic tracking, early academic warning systems, intensive advising and expansion of dual-enrollment programs.” The Lone Star College System wants to offer “success stipends” for students who complete academic milestones.

Designing a clear pathway to a meaningful credential is a challenge, writes Stacy Holliday, director of campus innovations and student success at Davidson County Community College, part of Completion by Design’s North Carolina cadre, in Community College Times.

. . . completion has to mean something. What labor market value does that credential have?  How does it translate into students successfully pursuing an advanced degree or obtaining a job?

Should we eliminate developmental courses all together, as some have suggested, or should all students complete all developmental classes before moving into their program of study?

“Instead of throwing college course catalogues at students . . . we can provide students with a roadmap that makes it clear where the program will begin and end,” Holliday writes. Students will no longer be overwhelmed by the number of course choices and will make the best choice for their future.”

The “completion agenda” has forced colleges to look at their shortcomings, noted community college leaders who spoke Monday at the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) annual meeting. But completion can’t be the primary goal, said Sandy Shugart, president of  Valencia College, reports Inside Higher Ed. “If students learn well, deeply and intentionally, more will complete,” Shugart said.


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