Keys to success: Plan, orient, accelerate, nag

Community colleges are finding ways to promote student success, concludes A Matter of Degrees, just released by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE). The survey of students, faculty and administrators identifies key policies and practices that improve student engagement and completion.

Setting academic goals is the first step to success.  Orientation also can be very useful.

One student told the survey:

“I participated in what my college calls the Student Orientation … . Walking into the room [with] a bunch of other people … they had as little idea of what they were doing as I did. Seriously, you could cut the air in that room with a knife, everyone glancing from side to side, kind of nervously, almost no movement except thumbs over phones. [Then] the speaker started telling us everything we need to know to succeed at our college … financial aid, attendance policies … she just laid it out there for us, kind of a packaged gift to the new students.”

Programs to teach study skills and build a sense of community are beneficial for new students, the survey found. These include learning communities,  ”first-year experience” programs and student success courses.

Accelerated or fast-track developmental education helped poorly prepared students.

Also beneficial: Experiential learning, tutoring and a clearly explained class attendance policy and penalties for missing classes.

Glen Oaks Community College (MI) stresses attendance in its mandatory orientation program, the report notes.

The college requires all full-time and part-time faculty to track and report attendance during the first three weeks of the term. Absences are reported to student services, including financial aid advisors, who use this information to contact students so they can explain financial aid implications and attempt to get the students back to class. The financial aid office may freeze financial aid for students who are not attending class regularly. This approach also helps minimize the number of students who jeopardize their financial aid eligibility. Each student receives a letter outlining six alternatives, from seeking free tutoring to withdrawing from the course.

Students are reminded that if they miss more than 15% of class time in any semester, instructors have the authority to withdraw them from class.

Students also are more likely to succeed if their college uses an alert and intervention system to let them know they’re falling behind.

High-quality implementation is critical, according to CCCSE Director Kay McClenney.  “Improved student success and college completion isn’t about having a checklist, or one of everything—a collection of boutique programs.”

Tech college puts work ethic on transcripts

Graduates of a Missouri technical college can show employers a transcript that includes a “job readiness” score and attendance as well as academic grades, reports Inside Higher EdLinn State Technical College hopes the new transcript will help students find jobs.

Instructors evaluate students’ job readiness and work ethic in six areas: safety, trust, timeliness, work habits, interpersonal and citizenship.

Job readiness is scored on a four-point scale. For example, a student must be described as “respectful” and “polite” to land a four in the interpersonal category. Lack of civility and the use of “slurs,” conversely, are on the checklist for a zero in interpersonal. As for safety, which is optional for general education courses, students get points for looking out for the safety of themselves and others, and score worse for the careless use of tools and equipment.

Under work habits, a student who’s diligent, organized and takes pride in a job well done earns a 4. A 3 usually goes beyond the minimum and has a good attitude. At the 2 level, the student is improving but needs supervision. A 1 needs supervision. Under 0, the student is lazy, takes no pride in work, ignores warnings and “thinks minimum is maximum.”

Evaluating workplace readiness is just starting to catch on at a few colleges, reports Inside Higher EdAsheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina will issue grades and certificates for “soft skills,” such punctuality and teamwork, to help graduates find jobs.

Employers are complaining that new workers lack a strong work ethic, said Donald Claycomb, Linn State’s president. The college worked with industry partners to decide which skills to evaluate.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again—for free

If at first you don’t succeed, you can try again —for free — at Missouri State University-West Plains, a public two-year institution, reports Community College Times.

“We’re telling students that if they go to all of their classes, do all of their assigned homework, communicate with their instructors and advisors and use our free tutoring services, they will earn acceptable passing grades,” said Chancellor Drew Bennett. “If, however, they faithfully do all of these things and still earn below a 2.0 grade point average, we will let them, for one time only, retake courses where they earned a D or F grade tuition free the next regular semester.”

The school has given students “10 Steps to Success” to help them do well.  “If students use the outlined techniques, they should become successful, and if they don’t the first time and are willing to try again, so are we,” said Gary Phillips, chair of the faculty senate.

The habits of successful students

Students who earn a college degree attend their classes and study at least 20 hours a week,  writes Scott Swail of Educational Policy Institute on College Puzzle. They ask for tutoring help and use the academic support center to learn time management and study skills. During breaks and holidays, they read and work ahead. Finally, they make friends.

Our successful students made friends with other students. They would hang out with them, study with them, and yes, even party with them. They joined clubs, volunteered, and played in intramural sports and academic challenge groups.

Go-it-alone students who skimp on studying and cut classes usually don’t make it to a degree.

Forty percent of low-income four-year college drop-outs leave because of poor academic preparation, concludes a University of Western Ontario study, Learning About Academic Ability and the College Drop-Out Decision (pdf), reported in College Bound.

Many low-income students started their first semester expecting to do well but received low grades, researchers Todd and Ralph Stinebrickner found. It’s not that they didn’t try. They weren’t prepared for the colleges to which they’d been admitted.

College-prep must start earlier to enable low-income students to succeed in college, the authors recommend. That’s especially true for would-be math and science majors. Instead of “encouraging more incoming university students to major in math and science,” they suggest more attention to preparing students for college-level math and science classes.

‘Customers’ replace students

Students see themselves as “customers” who are always right, complains Brian P. Hall, an assistant professor of English at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In the middle of a semester, one of my students in my developmental English course came to my office to tell me that he had to withdraw and that it was my fault. He couldn’t continue because my teaching style didn’t meet his needs.

. . .  I had interfered with his learning style . . . by assigning homework, giving tests, taking attendance, and requiring that all essays be typed, printed out, and handed in at the very beginning of class.

When I began to tell him that I do all of those things because I’m trying to teach academic responsibility, he interrupted and said, “You’re not letting me be me.”

Students complain he’s disrespectful if he doesn’t give lecture notes to a student who’s missed two or more weeks of class, or when he tells a student not to answer her cellphone in class.

It would be easier to be an “educational liaison” teaching “what they want to know and nothing more,” Hall writes. “Learning clients” would be allowed to “answer the phone in class whenever they wanted, to pick which days to come to class, and to determine when, or even if, tests and papers would be assigned.”

If students were dissatisfied with my service, they could fill out a complaint form, and I would tell them that someone would contact them in 24 to 48 hours.

In another developmental English course, students said teachers need to show they care about students.  They wanted a lax attendance policy because “we have lives outside of class” and they wanted their papers graded and returned within 48 hours.  Anything else would be disrespectful.

Another professor complains of entitled graduate students who demand that standards be lowered for their convenience. If the instructor refuses to accept shoddy or plagiarized work, they “resort to a new code of conduct that includes acted-out rage, lack of respect, and blame.”

Students, you are adults in my class

On the first day of class, Rob Jenkins makes sure students get the message: You’re adults. Act like adults. An English instructor at Georgia Perimeter College, Jenkins prints his first-day welcome in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Students don’t have to raise  hand to speak or ask permission to use the restroom. They won’t be penalized for coming late or missing class, “beyond the natural penalties that accrue as a result of your missing class time and activities.”

You should also know that, according to several recent studies, students who attend class regularly earn, on average, one full letter grade higher than students who attend only sporadically. If you don’t know what “sporadically” means, you should definitely come to class.

“Along with considerable freedom, being an adult also carries a great deal of responsibility,” Jenkins reminds students.

You’re responsible, first of all, for displaying good manners, being considerate of others, and generally not being a jerk. That means you won’t interrupt other speakers, including me. You won’t routinely be late to class, or regularly leave before it’s over, because that’s rude. And you’ll keep your cellphone turned off, unless you have some really good reason to leave it on, such as your mother is in the hospital, your partner is about to give birth, or the Braves are playing in the World Series.

Moreover, you are personally responsible for everything we cover in class, whether you’re here or not. I don’t mean that unkindly, but please don’t come up to me and ask, “Are we going to be doing anything important on Wednesday?” Of course we’re going to do something important on Wednesday. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be there either.

And please don’t ask “Is it OK if I’m absent on Friday?” or “Is it OK if I leave early?” As far as I’m concerned, it’s neither OK nor not OK. I prefer you to be in class all the time, for the simple reason that I want you to succeed in the course. But it’s entirely your decision. You’re an adult. Do what you have to do. You don’t need my permission, nor will I give it. Just remember that you’re responsible for all the material.

Jenkins warns students that he doesn’t give many A’s because not many students excel. But plenty are good enough to earn a B, if they show up and do the work.

ID reader knows who’s cutting class

ID-card readers will monitor class attendance at Northern Arizona University by fall, reports the Arizona Republic.  In addition, NAU President John Haeger will “strongly encourage” faculty to require students to attend all freshman- and sophomore-level courses. Only 70 percent of NAU freshmen return for sophomore year. Haeger thinks more will succeed if they get in the habit of attending their classes.

In recent years, more faculty are making attendance part of their grades, influenced by research that links attendance and classroom success, some NAU professors said.

With fewer students coming to lectures, especially on Mondays, NAU chemistry professor Brandon Cruickshank started basing 10 percent of the final grade on attendance and participation. His classes are now 90 percent full.

Students who earn A’s almost always have 90 to 100 percent attendance, he said. Those with B’s average 80 to 100 percent. Students with C’s and D’s are all over the board.

Rachel Brackett, a sophomore, has started a Facebook group to oppose the use of proximity cards. So far, 1,300 students have joined.

“My biggest problem is we are here at college to learn to become adults,” she said. “I don’t think we’re all there maturitywise, but choosing to go to class is a stepping stone in maturity.”

Federal stimulus funds will pay the $75,000 cost to equip large classrooms — 50 seats or more — with sensors. In smaller classes, some professors use clickers to track student participation and attendance.