CCCSE: ‘Think big’ on helping minority males

Community colleges should “think big” when it comes to improving minority male students’ success, says Evelyn Waiwaiole, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. “If you know it works for one group of students, then it’s mostly going to work for all groups of students. So think about making policies and practices work to scale.”

The center’s report, Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges, cites examples of effective programs that could be scaled up. “We definitely know men of color need support groups, need to be coached and need a place to feel safe, a place to be mentored,” says  Waiwaiole.

Some policies are easy to implement, she says. When colleges end late registration and instructors set an attendance policy, more students — of all backgrounds — succeed.

Other approaches, such as mandating orientation and creating “learning communities,” cost more.

ATD names ‘leader colleges’

Achieving the Dream has named a new group of “leader colleges” that are improving student success and closing achievement gaps, reports Community College Daily.

  • Amarillo College (Texas)
  • East Los Angeles College (California)
  • Eastern Maine Community College
  • Everett Community College (Washington)
  • Jackson College (Michigan)
  • Jefferson Community and Technical College (Kentucky)
  • Lane Community College (Oregon)
  • Los Angeles Harbor College (California)
  • Lower Columbia College (Washington)
  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
  • Oklahoma City Community College
  • Passaic County Community College (New Jersey)
  • Pierce College (California)
  • Pierce College (Wyoming)
  • Richland College (Texas)
  • Rose State College (Oklahoma)

Achieving the Dream colleges work to improve college readiness programs, orientation, student-success courses and remediation.

‘Step: Forward’ launches in California

California’s Step: Forward campaign offers priority registration for high-demand community college classes to students who participate in orientation, participate in skills assessment and develop an education plan. “Providing more structure and guidance” will “encourage better choices and increase a student’s probability of reaching their goal,” said Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris.

Some colleges also require students to maintain a 2.0 grade point average, complete at least half their courses each semester and not accumulate more than 100 units.

Step: Forward, funded by an $845,000 grant from The Kresge Foundation, is part of the system’s Student Success Initiative, reports the Lake County News. 

 “When you complete these steps – orientation, assessment, and an education plan—you have a greater understanding of what you’re going to have to go through to achieve your goal, and that’s really what it’s about,” said student Luis Carlos Alvarez, who studied physics at the College of San Mateo. “These steps are about completing your goals.”

The Step: Forward web site is integrated with the registration tool used by most California community college students, “allowing it to provide college-specific resources such as campus maps and contacts for counselors and advisors,” reports the Lake County News. An online assessment quiz will help students determine whether they need to take college placement exams.

First steps in college

Points of Contact initiative helps students make a smooth transition to college
Student tutor Oliver Perrett, left, helps pharmacy technician student Fred Smith in San Jacinto College’s student success center. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College

To prevent “summer melt,” San Jacinto College in Texas is helping students navigate application, registration and enrollment through Points of Contact (POC). Points of Contact presenters introduce new students to financial aid, tutoring services, student life programs and activities, First Year Experience services, career assessment, and guided registration into future courses.

High school graduates are less likely to “melt” over the summer if enrollment and registration is “de-mystified,” says Clare Iannelli, dean of student development at the San Jacinto College North Campus.

The college will track retention and success rates for students exposed to POC.

Shared educational planners at feeder high schools also help students prepare for enrollment, placement testing, course  registration and financial aid application.

How to help students plan, succeed

More students are passing classes and staying in school at Florida’s St. Petersburg College. Writing in Community College Daily, President Bill Law credits an initiative launched two years ago, College Experience: Student Success.

A third of students were failing gatekeeper courses. Minority students, especially African-American males, were doing even worse.

The college added professional and peer tutors, made Learning Support Centers more welcoming, involved more faculty in tutoring and learning support and increased access to 24/7 online tutoring resources.

The number of students visiting learning centers more than doubled in the first year, writes Law. Most who use the centers do so at least five times a semester, significantly raising their odds of earning a “C” or better.

An online tool, My Learning Plan, gives students “up-to-the-minute guidance on where they stand in meeting graduation requirements,” he writes. Students can plan which courses to take several terms in advance and see the impact of dropping a class or changing majors.

College-success course instructors helped students complete a plan and the tool was available online for all students. Students who completed the plan had a significantly higher success rate than those who did not.

The college also helped students explore careers, use career-aptitude tools and set goals.

About a third of the first-time college students entered without a clear goal. Those who worked with an advisor to choose a career path were more likely to return for a second semester.

Online orientation wasn’t enough for poorly prepared students, writes Law. The college now requires an intensive advising session and face-to-face orientation for new students with low test scores. Advisors contact their advisees in the first weeks of class to offer help as needed.

Students assigned to the face-to-face orientation remained enrolled in 92 percent of their classes, the same rate as better-prepared students.

If a student falls behind in class, the instructor uses an “early alert” system to inform a coach or mentor.  Faculty teaching almost 1,000 courses — most for new or underprepared students — have gone through training on using the alert system.

Two-year colleges focus on advising

Ohio community colleges are trying to strengthen counseling to lower the high dropout rate, reports NPR’s StateImpact Ohio

“College is an intimidating place for students, particularly for first generation students or returning students who make up a lot of our community college population,” says Suzanne Cox, a counselor at Cuyahoga Community College.

More than 60 percent of Tri-C students attend part-time.  Cox says students tend to be older than traditional college students, and many juggle school with a full time job and caring for their children or parents.

. . .  “Having that connection with someone who cares, who says I’m here for you, I’ll encourage you.  If you need me, here’s my card, just that simple act of encouraging someone is really, really important,” Cox says.

But as much as she tries, Cox says she doesn’t always have much time to build a relationship with every student she advises.  Students are required to attend orientation and see a counselor when they first enroll, but after that it’s up to them to seek out academic advising when they need it. Some may see an advisor only once during their entire college experience.

Only 20 percent of first time, full time, two-year college students complete an associate’s degree within three years. Community colleges are trying to raise graduation rates, says Melinda Mechur Karp, a researcher at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. “Advising is a really critical component.”

Counseling centers at community colleges “don’t have enough staff and they don’t have enough funds,” Karp says. The median caseload is 441 students per counselor, according to a 2011 survey by the National Academic Advising Association.

Some two-year colleges are “turning to online academic program planning tools that will send a red flag to an advisor when a student is veering off track,” reports State Impact Ohio. Many require new students to attend orientation or a “college success” class.

Online students want more guidance

Online students expect a lot of support from instructors. Online teachers think students should be independent. The misaligned expectations lead to “frustration, confusion, and tension,” concludes a Community College Research Center study by Rachel Hare Bork and Zawadi Rucks-Ahidiana. They interviewed students and instructors at two Virginia community colleges.

. . . most instructors felt that students should be solely responsible for being motivated, identifying the most important material, prioritizing course-related tasks, reviewing assignments in advance, and asking any questions of the instructor several days before assignments are due.

While students agreed that students should manage their time well and perform course tasks and assignments on schedule, they expected instructors to work more actively to make key tasks, material, priorities, and assignments clear; to motivate student learning by ensuring that materials were engaging; to inject their own presence into the course; and to support student learning by being proactive in providing substantive feedback.

Students expected written feedback on assignments. Instructors typically provided only a grade, expecting students to ask questions if they needed more information.

Students were disappointed when instructors didn’t comment on their discussion board posts. One student complained:

She’ll give us questions and in those questions it might ask you “Discuss such-and-such, being in depth with this, be specific with that” and you can put your opinion in there. But the thing is … you don’t get any feedback. And so it feels like “Why am I telling you anything if you don’t really [read it]? I mean like you are not responding to me in any kind of way.”

While students liked YouTube or PBS audiovisual clips, but they strongly preferred multimedia presentations created by the instructor. Hearing and seeing the instructor “provided a personal touch . . .  giving students the sense that the instructor was actively teaching them.”

Students wanted teachers to “have a strong and frequent presence” online to guide them through the learning process.

Another student suggested that online instructors were implicitly telling students that they had to learn course content independently. “I think the problem with online teaching is that the teachers kind of tell you ‘Okay, here’s the book, you know, study pages 12 through 23 and know this for a test in a few days.’” The student continued that this approach did not work for him because “I can’t teach myself math.”

Many instructors saw themselves as course designers and managers rather than teachers.

Colleges should prepare students for the demands of studying online, the researchers suggest. Distance-learning orientation — offered before and during registration — could help students decide if they should take the course online or in a face-to-face classroom.

Readiness activities should provide practice in skills and knowledge needed for online learning, they add. They recommend “mandatory modules on time‐management, self-directed learning and computer literacy.”

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.”

Late enrollment leads to failure

Late enrollment sets students up to fail, writes an anonymous community college administrator in Inside Higher Ed.

In the name of access, many community colleges set no deadlines to enroll or apply for financial aid, Anonymous writes. Students can self-select into the classes they want, even if they’ve failed the placement test. They can start a week late, missing two or three classes.

We worry over our rising student loan default numbers. We struggle to improve our retention and completion rates and yet we have created a system that makes it OK for college to be a last-minute decision, where our most at-risk students start out behind and many never catch up. We force our professors to take students who will be seriously behind on their first day in class, and who will either sidetrack the instructor or fall more behind. Instructors, especially in our core classes, must balance trying to meet the course objectives while also providing in-class remediation for underprepared students.

Late enrollment often leads to academic failure, the administrator writes. Dropouts often have student loans that they won’t be able to pay.

Anonymous proposes:

Application and enrollment deadlines that ensure a student has enough time to get financial aid and payment plans in place before the semester begins. We need to have deadlines in place so a student knows that being successful requires planning and some time getting his or her life organized to be a student. A student who misses the deadline for enrollment isn’t told “no,” they are told “next semester.”

Mandatory orientation for all new students. We have a moral obligation to ensure that students have been informed of the institutions’ expectations, policies and practices before students try to begin navigating our increasingly large bureaucracies.

Required placement and advising prior to the first semester of enrollment. Students should start knowing what they’ll need to graduate, what classes they are truly ready for and what their academic plan will be.

Some community colleges have ended late enrollment to raise student success rates. In a 2002 study, 80 percent of on-time students made it to the next semester, compared to 35 percent of late registrants.

California community colleges start recovery

After three very tough years, California’s new state budget puts community colleges on a slow path to recovery, reports Kathy Baron on EdSource Today.

The state’s 112 community colleges will get up to $6 billion for the 2013-14 fiscal year, a $200 million boost over this year. That’s only a quarter of the $809 million cut from community college budgets in the last three years.

Colleges will get $89.4 million to rebuild enrollment, enough for 40,000 additional students. The system lost 470,000 students during the bad years, officials estimate.

Other budget increases include:

$50 million to implement the Student Success Act of 2012, which includes counseling and advising services, orientation for every student, and helping each student design an education plan with a path to a degree or certificate or to transfer to a four-year college.

$47 million to implement Proposition 39, the November ballot initiative that creates a fund for energy efficient projects. . . .

$30 million toward the $1 billion needed for deferred maintenance on the campuses, plus new books, lab equipment and technology to modernize classrooms.

The per-student apportionment went up to $4,637, up from $4,565.