Bidens praise job training at NY college

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, a community college professor, visited the applied technologies center at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York to promote job training programs.

‘Completion culture’ builds on campus

Promoting a completion culture at community colleges is the goal of a Phi Theta Kappa initiative, writes Megan Rogers on Inside Higher Ed. The honor society has created the Community College Completion Corps.

Joshua Trader dropped out midway through his first semester at Delta College because the “timing wasn’t right.” In doing so, he became another statistic of the sort often used to bemoan the performance of community colleges: of those pursuing two-year associate degrees, only 18.8 percent of full-time students graduate within four years, as do 7.8 percent of part-time students, according to a report from Complete College America.

But Trader returned to the Michigan community college six years later, and when he did, he reached out to professors, attended tutoring sessions and became involved with student organizations.

Trader’s new approach yielded an associate degree in science, another in art, and a certificate in communications. By the time he graduated Delta, Trader was a member of the Community College Completion Corps and advising other students to make similar choices to ensure completion.

Phi Theta Kappa and five other national organizations pledged in 2010 to increase community college completion by 50 percent over 10 years. The honor society is collecting completion pledges from students and faculty.

Students who commit to complete are given a pledge for faculty and staff members and urged to find a completion champion. Faculty and staff members pledge to create a positive learning environment, mentor students and provide developmental opportunities.

“My professors from Delta College are some of my friends, mentors and people I look up to professionally, and it’s because I took the time to ask them questions and get to know them and go to their office hours,” Trader said. “I just spent time doing more of what other students should do: taking an interest and getting help.”

At Northeast Community College in Nebraska, 400 faculty and staff members pledged to foster students’ success by increasing their accessibility or strengthening their teaching skills.

Administrators at Monroe Community College in New York and other colleges have discussed tracking the records of students who signed the commitment to identify points of assistance. Conversations about the importance of college completion have “much more authenticity and a greater sense of authority” if students are advising students, Monroe President Anne Kress said.

Too much information

Why weren’t Monroe Community College students registering early? The New York college was bombarding students with too much information, reports Inside Higher Ed.

The college had conducted research that showed students who registered earlier were more likely to succeed: they get financial aid earlier, they’re more likely to get courses at a convenient time, and they have time to buy books and prepare for the first day of class. But while “express enrollment days” for first-time students were a success, continuing students were much less likely to show up.

That wasn’t for lack of communication. In fact, college officials discovered, students were overwhelmed with e-mails, letters, phone calls and postcards about enrollment.

A “communications audit” discovered 286 separate emails, letters and phone calls about enrollment.

Various departments sent notes and e-mails about immunizations, advising, placement tests, involvement on campus and financial aid applications. Often, each task a student needed to complete generated several pieces of communication from several different departments, duplication that college officials decided was unnecessary. Students could get up to 10 letters and e-mails from the college per week — which, (Kimberley) Collins said, made none of them seem particularly important.

The timing was off too: Applicants would get information about advising months before advising was available.

Monroe now sends emails with several “action items,” using red ink or bullets to create a to-do list, avoids outdated personal email accounts and sometimes sends postcards that may be noticed by other family members.

Open hours for placement exams were replaced by appointments to give students an action to take. The number of students taking the exams during their April break increased 50 percent, Collins said. Early registration is up 30 percent.

Rochester college faces a post-Kodak moment

As Eastman Kodak’s slid into bankruptcy, disrupting the economy of Rochester, New York,  Monroe Community College remade its workforce development programs to help its town recover, reports Community College Week.

Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb once accounted for 60 percent of Rochester’s workforce. That’s now down to 5 percent.

“We went from the Big 3 with thousands of workers to lots of companies with fewer than 100 employees,” says Anne Kress, MCC’s president. Because smaller companies couldn’t afford to train their workers, the college became a “convener,” working with industry clusters instead of individual companies.

“It’s a natural role for community colleges to take a leadership position in responding to workforce development needs,” Kress said. “These needs change frequently. We are naturally positioned to get people around the table to address them.”

Kress tapped Todd M. Oldham, then associate vice president of Corporate & Continuing Education at Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., to head the new workforce division at MCC. His charge: rebuild MCC’s long dormant bridges to business, industry and economic development sectors and develop strategies to respond to local economic development and training needs — all without constructing just another administrative silo isolated from the traditional academic functions of the college.

MCC is creating pathways to middle-skill jobs in fields such as computer technology, health care and advanced manufacturing, Oldham says.

Jim Sydor, a 1971 MCC graduate and owner of Stefan Sydor Optics, is helping the college strengthen its optical systems technology program. “Rochester is a big optics town, because of Eastman Kodak and Bausch & Lomb,” he says. But MCC’s optics program withered when Kodak began laying off workers. Students didn’t realize there are 85 smaller optics companies in town looking for qualified workers. With a $250,000 gift from Sydor, MCC rewrote the optics curriculum, bought new equipment and recruited students.

MCC provides a summer career prep program for high school students as well as MCC Career Coach, a web-based search tool showing connections between areas of study and local job opportunities.

Community colleges help train teachers

Community colleges are helping train a new generation of K-12 teachers, reports Community College Week.

Samuel Simpson, 54, a high school math teacher at All City High School in inner-city Rochester, is one of the first fellows of the Community Center for Teaching Excellence (CCTE), which is based at Monroe Community College (New York). “My efforts in doing the kinds of best practices that many people in the education field talk about doing — looking at data, using it to inform instruction, and teaching differently and smarter — have brought significant results,” Simpson said.

Community college educators, university professors, high school teachers and the Center for Governmental Research are collaborating on “high-impact teaching strategies” through CCTE, reports Community College Week.

 A number of fellows incorporated collaborative learning techniques in their classes, such as peer teaching, paired writing and group note-taking, to increase student engagement. A few teachers experimented with integrating 21st-century technology tools into their lessons, such as creating digital versions of their notes with embedded audio and having students contribute to blogs.

MCC Assistant Professor Maria Brandt and a colleague are working with a teacher at Rush-Henrietta Senior High School to create common writing assignments and assessments.

 Focused on improving students’ abilities to read critically and communicate coherently and accurately, they had students write summaries of selected authors’ work and evaluate their own writing at the beginning and middle of the fall semester.

“Through the course of the semester, students in my English 101 class have improved in two areas: their ability to summarize a text and their sense of the importance of reading closely, that you cannot formulate an accurate and responsible argument without understanding the texts involved,” Brandt said. “The students are much more aware now that they need to listen first or read well to grow as readers and writers.”

“Our goal is to better understand the gap between how high school students are performing on average and how first-year college students are performing on average and help them have higher success levels,” Brandt said.

Many schools need science, technology and math teachers.  Community College Week looks at STEM programs at Cerritos College (California) and Rio Salado (Arizona), which belong to the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP).

Ten Maryland community colleges now offer a fully transferrable associate of arts in teaching degree in secondary math, writes Colleen Eisenbeiser, director of the TEACH Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. Nine offer secondary chemistry and eight offer physics.

Two Maryland community colleges partner with their local school systems “to recruit, prepare, place, and instruct career changers in hard to fill secondary content areas, including math, chemistry, physics, and technical education.” Anne Arundel has helped a variety of career changers become certified teachers, including a computer software engineer, a health information analyst lawyer, a nurse, researchers from a lab that studies the habits of migratory birds and the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a biologist who worked at the National Aquarium and National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

Vision: Let’s do something now

Colleges’ strategic plans usually set large, long-term goals, writes Mitch Smith on Inside Higher Ed.  “Vision (Insert Far-Off Year Here)” is a typical title, he writes.  It’s hard to see progress. A Rochester, New York community college has a different aproach:

Monroe Community College has its own set of long-term aspirations, but has also started a series of modest but tangible 100-day projects to improve the college. The first task: streamline the application and enrollment process so that prospective students have to create one password instead of three.

Anne Kress, the college president, sees 100 Days to Innovation as a way to move toward the big goals. Making it easier for students to enroll — by June 2 — will serve the college’s big goal of increasing enrollment eventually.

Monroe will select another 100-day project this summer, and one possibility is already in the works. The college wants to offer a one-credit class through community organizations designed to expose adults to college. By working with the Urban League or YWCA, Kress hopes to enroll nontraditional students who might have never pursued higher education but are intrigued by a program Monroe offers.

Improving institutional effectiveness and accountability is everyone’s strategic goal, says Kress. “But what does that mean, and how do you break that down to a micro level?”

“Mission statement rewrites, strategic planning and quality initiatives have no direct bearing whatsoever on student learning or program completion,” according to parody writer Jeffrey Ross, co-creator of the fictional Copperfield Community College and a professor at a real community college.

“At the control group institutions [No Plan Institutions—NPIs] all strategic plans, organizational studies, mission statement rewrites and quality control committee work activities were pulled, ceased, removed, bludgeoned, discarded, ignored, then sealed and buried for five years. Student completion rates for two-year AA degrees? Just nine years.”

“At the experimental group institutions [Too Many Plans Institutions—TMPIs] we encouraged constant mission statement rewrites, sustainability policy development, hired consultants to streamline strategic plans, created and duplicated feedback loops, retained additional administrators in important quality control areas and constantly asked for evaluations from internal and external stake beholders and steak eaters. Student completion rate for two-year AA degrees? Only ten years.”

The analysis  found only one  “statistically significant input variable” determining college success: the student.

Remaking manufacturing tech

Manufacturing technology is now “product and process technology” at Monroe County Community College (MCCC) in Michigan, reports Community College Times. The name change is meant to reflect the new, high-performance manufacturing techniques students can learn.

Manufacturing is coming back in Michigan, says Bob Leonard, an instructor in the new program.

“I’m getting calls now for CNC (computer numerical control) technicians.  They need people who know the machines and the codes,” he said.

To keep up with industry, the program added high-speed machining machines and “more safety, more CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing),”  Leonard said.

Students can earn certificates in CNC or CAD/CAM or earn an associate degree in product and process technology.  Pay starts at $15 to $25 an hour.

In the future, Leonard hopes to add small tools to train students to work in the medical manufacturing industry.  He also wants to add an art class to teach design.