Improving completion requires understanding the higher education “ecosystem,” writes Sanford C. Shugart, president of Aspen Prize-winning Valencia College in Florida.
Community colleges “are being asked to achieve much better results with fewer resources to engage a needier student population in an atmosphere of serious skepticism where all journalism is yellow and our larger society no longer exempts our institutions (nor us) from the deep distrust that has grown toward all institutions,” writes Shugart in Inside Higher Ed.
His principles for moving the needle on student completion start with a caution: “Be careful what and how you are measuring — it is sure to be misused.”
. . . Consider a student who comes to a community college, enrolls full-time, and after a year of successful study is encouraged to transfer to another college. This student is considered a noncompleter at the community college and isn’t considered in the measure of the receiving institution at all.
. . . Is there any good reason to exclude part-time students from the measures? How about early transfers? Should non-degree-seeking students be in the measure? When is a student considered to be degree‐seeking? How are the measures, inevitably used to compare institutions with very different missions, calibrated to those missions? How can transfer be included in the assessment and reporting when students swirl among so many institutions, many of which don’t share student unit record information easily?
Completion rates should be calculated for different groups depending on where they start — college ready? low remedial? — so students can calculate their own odds and colleges can design interventions, Shugart recommends. College outcomes measures should be based on college-ready students and should reflect the value added during the college years.
Students experience higher education as an “ecosystem,” Shugart writes. Few community college students get all their education at one institution.
They swirl in and among, stop out, start back, change majors, change departments, change colleges. . . . Articulation of credit will have to give way to carefully designed pathways that deepen student learning and accelerate their progression to completion.
Students need to know that completion matters, writes Shugart. Florida has “the country’s strongest 2+2 system of higher education” with common course numbering, ”statewide articulation agreements that work” and a history of successful transfers. Yet community college students are told to transfer when they’re “ready,” regardless of whether they’ve completed an associate degree.
Students at Valencia, Seminole State, Brevard and Lake Sumter are offered a new model, “Direct Connect,” which guarantees University of Central Florida admission to all associate degree graduates in the region. “It is something they can count on, plan for, and commit to. Earn the degree and you are in.”
Learning is what matters, Shugart adds. Increasing completion rates improves the local economy and community only if students learn “deeply and effectively in a systematic program of study, with a clearer sense of purpose in their studies and their lives.”
He suggests: designing degree pathways across institutional boundaries, encouraging students to “make earlier, more grounded choices of major,” requiring an associate degree to transfer and providing transfer guarantees. In addition, Shugart calls for research on higher education ecosystems and new metrics for measuring performance.
How did Valencia College in Orlando, Florida win the Aspen Prize for community college excellence? President Sandy Shugart has six big ideas about what community colleges should to enable learning, writes Fawn Johnson.
1) Anyone can learn anything under the right conditions.
2) Start right.
3) Connection and direction.
4) The college is how the students experience us, not how we experience them.
5) The purpose of assessment is to improve learning.
Many community colleges enroll huge numbers of students, collect the tuition and then see most of them drop out.
Valencia sacrifices its enrollment numbers (and the accompanying dollars) by turning students away who fail to register before the first day of a class. Research shows that students who register late are more likely to drop out, so Shugart says it makes sense to head those students off.
The college integrates advising with teaching. “Faculty members are expected to participate in plotting their students’ graduation paths, but each program also has an embedded full-time career adviser to track students’ progress,” Johnson writes.
Faculty members test teaching ideas in a three-year “learning academy.” Adjuncts are paid more if they participate in developing their teaching skills.
Valencia invests most heavily in improving 15 to 20 “gateway courses” that make up 40 percent of the curriculum for first-year students.
Planning is required. “When I was in college, the idea was that your freshman and sophomore years was an exploratory time. Totally gone. It is not exploratory,” said Joyce Romano, Valencia’s vice president for student services. “Decide when you’re in the womb what you want to do.”
All students are expected to map out a graduation plan in their first semester. They must “connect” with faculty members, career advisers, tutors, and student-services staffers. Tutors—usually students themselves—know the professors personally and often sit in on classes to seek out students who might feel shy about asking for help. Tutoring centers are located in central campus areas, and they are packed.
Valencia constantly analyzes student-achievement data, but instructors are judged on their teaching, not their students’ test scores.
Community colleges are seeking new strategies to raise completion rates, reports Community College Times. Valencia College in Florida, winner of this year’s Aspen Prize for excellence, is a leader in getting high-risk students to a better future.
Growing up in a trailer park in Florida with a father in prison and a mother who was a high school dropout, Dawn Ginnetti never considered going to college. In fact, she barely made it through high school.
Today, after a few setbacks along the way, Ginnetti, 36, is an honor student at the elite Smith College in Massachusetts. She was one of just 30 students admitted to Smith, on a full scholarship, through the Ada Comstock Scholars program for nontraditional students. She’s majoring in American studies and plans to go for a doctorate.
Ginnetti’s career goal: to teach in a community college, because it was at Valencia College in Florida where her life turned around.
“Choosing to enroll in Valencia College was the best decision I ever made, hands down,” Ginnetti said. All the personal attention, tutoring sessions, peer mentoring and other resources there “were hugely helpful for me,” she said.
The college uses a five-stage Life Map to help students make decisions about their college career. Students in remedial classes are required to take a success course. In addition, Valencia uses online tools to identify students with enough credits to earn a degree or those who need to complete certain courses. Students “always know where they stand,” Joyce Romano, vice president for student affairs, told Community College Times. When students are ready to move on, no-credit “skillshops,” help them prepare to transition to the workforce or to a four-year institution.
“I went from thinking I wasn’t college material to being on the dean’s list at Smith,” said Ginnetti. Valencia “changed my life.”
The Aspen Institute has named 120 community colleges in 31 states that are in the running for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The finalists were evaluated on the basis of student persistence, completion and transfer rates, consistent improvement in outcomes over time and equity in outcomes for students of all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Valencia College in Florida won the 2012 prize.
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.
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.
Low community college graduation rates have high costs for students and taxpayers, concludes a new report from the American Enterprise Institute. Cutting the dropout rate in half would generate $30 billion in lifetime income for 160,000 additional graduates and $5.3 billion in taxpayer revenue, the report estimates.
Community colleges can boost graduation rates and save money by streamlining the degree path, using online courses, and borrowing innovations from for-profit schools. Another potential game-changer is the competency-based model, which has helped Florida’s Valencia College achieve a 40 percent graduation rate.
Reforms such as those proposed by Complete College America and others would be inexpensive in comparison to “the tax dollars lost each year through lower income and lower tax collections, as well as the billions of dollars in government appropriations that subsidize the tuition of dropouts,” the AEI concludes.
“For elevating the discussion of community colleges from access to success,” the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence — awarded to Valencia College in Florida – leads Community College Week’s top 10 community college stories of 2011.
Also on the list: job training, budget woes, uneven progress on completion goals, Pell Grants under pressure, new measures of college success, veterans on campus, the crackdown on for-profit colleges, state action to help undocumented students and the end of the college enrollment boom.
Federal, state and local taxpayers spend billions of dollars on community college dropouts, I write in U.S. News.
Fewer than 45 percent of college-ready students and just 20 percent of remedial students earn a certificate or degree in four years at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla. That’s “nearly three times the rate” of similar urban community colleges and impressive enough to earn Valencia the first Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, awarded Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C.
In short, even at one of the most successful community colleges, most students don’t complete a certificate or degree.
Valencia’s Start Right program has raised student success rates by providing early advising and orientation and redesigning introductory courses. “All the failure occurs at the front door,” says Sandy Shugart, the president since 2000.
. . . because data showed that students who start classes late are the least likely to complete them, nobody could add a course that had already met, even once. But the school didn’t want to slow anyone’s progression. So for the classes first-time students typically take, Valencia created “flex start” sections a month into the semester for students enrolling late.
. . . Two-fifths of Valencia students—including all those with the greatest developmental needs—now take a course called Student Success, where they create a personalized education plan and learn organizational skills. ow.
As a result, more remedial students are passing and moving on to college-level classes.
“Finalists with distinction” are: Walla Walla Community College (Washington), West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, Kentucky), Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD) and Miami Dade College (Florida). Each will receive $100,000.
Go here to view the webcast of the event in Washington, D.C.
Community colleges should be included in the discussion about excellence in higher education, writes Kevin Carey.