Walla Walla: Fewer dropouts, more degrees

Washington’s Walla Walla Community College is using personalized advising and software tools to keep students on the path to success, reports the Seattle Times.

Walla Walla was co-winner of the 2013 Aspen Prize for excellence in workforce training, but the college also has raised completion rates.

“About 56 percent of Walla Walla’s first-time, full-time students now transfer or graduate within three years — well above the state and national average,” reports the Times. The college’s minority students earn credentials at a rate more than three times the national average.

WWCC enrolls 10,000 students. The average student is 29 years old. About a third are minority group members.

In 2013, the average age of students was 29. More than half were attending part-time, and about a third were minorities.

Only 20 percent of students say they plan to transfer to pursue a bachelor’s degree; 42 percent come for workforce training.

Over the last seven years, the college has focused on advising. After attending a mandatory orientation, each student is matched with an academic adviser who schedules quarterly meetings.

Using a software tool, developed by the school’s IT department, each student and adviser “map out a course-taking pathway through specific degree programs and certificates,” reports the Times.

Other tools help students chart their progress and tell them which courses count toward a degree. Then there’s Career Coach, which identifies “where the jobs are in a 100-mile radius around Walla Walla, how much they pay, how many likely openings there will be, and which degrees or certificates they require.”

Students aren’t allowed to “float around very long” without choosing a pathway, said Wendy Samitore, vice president for student services. “The fewer choices you give, the less confusing — and the better it is for students.”

Three “completion coaches” track down students who are near a certificate or degree but haven’t re-enrolled. “The result: sometimes long, personal conversations — on the phone or in person — about what went wrong and a plan for righting it.”

In an era when college presidents come and go, Steve VanAusdle has led WWCC since 1984. He’s known for willingness to take risks.

In the late 1990s, Walla Walla lost a sawmill and a cannery. “We needed to reinvent ourselves,” VanAusdle said.

 The college took an entrepreneurial leap, creating its own enology and viticulture program to support a nascent wine industry. To that it recently added a culinary program, training a new generation of chefs.

The programs are small, but together they have helped nurture Walla Walla’s wine, food and cultural offerings to make it a tourist destination, VanAusdle said.

. . . When wind turbines started to spring up in the dry, windy hills outside of Walla Walla, the college started a wind-turbine technology program to train technicians for work that pays about $35,000 a year.

WWCC partners with John Deere dealers on a tractor repair program that draws students from across the western United States. With a certificate, graduates start at $25 an hour.

WWCC’s  2011 graduates average $54,756 a year compared with other new hires in the area who average $20,904.

Completion coaches are an idea worth replicating, writes Matt Reed, the community college dean.

Completion plans face growing pains

Scaling up completion efforts is a challenge for community colleges, reports Community College Daily.

For example, Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) in Washington improved completion rates by drafting individualized education plans for students nearing a degree. Nearly all students in the pilot went on to graduate. But it proved hard to expand the program.

“We hand-looked through every transcript of the identified pilot students, all of whom had 60 credits toward an AA degree,” says Wendy Samitore, vice president of student services. “We had no other way to do it.”

Community colleges must shift their focus “from access to success,” says Mary Frances Archey, vice president of student success and completion at the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. “It’s about ensuring the open door does not become a revolving door.”

At Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in South Dakota, two-thirds of students complete a vocational credential. Focus is the key to completion, says Deb Shephard, LATI president.

Students are not allowed to simply wander into and around the system. There is no general education track. Every LATI student is accepted into a specific technical program — welding or building, for example — and the college develops a pathway, including which courses to take and in which order.

. . . Faculty double as advisers and are charged with catching students before they drop out. The college offers co-requisite remediation, in which students who are not quite at college level take one day of tutoring a week, along with required college-level classes.

Single-mission technical colleges often have much higher graduation rates than community colleges, which try to prepare students for bachelor’s degrees and for jobs.

Want money? Ask for it

Community college leaders need to get a lot better at fundraising, write Neil Kreisel and Vanessa L. Patterson, president and executive director of the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Underfunded community colleges risk becoming “separate but unequal institutions in the higher-education landscape,” warns a Century Foundation report.

. . . For each dollar given to a four-year college, only a cent or two goes to support community colleges. The Century Foundation’s study found that the average benefit from private and group donations, grants, investment returns, endowment income, and the like per full-time student to private research institutions was $46,342, compared with $372 for community colleges.

Santa Barbara and Walla Walla Community College, in Washington State, were awarded the Aspen Institute’s 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Without private philanthropy, community colleges can’t develop programs to help students succeed.

To begin with, community colleges need to develop relations with alumni, who often identify with the four-year college from which they earned a degree. A recent survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education showed that an average of one-half of one percent of alumni contributed to a community college in the 2012 fiscal year. The comparable number for four-year universities nationwide is 13 percent.

. . . Fewer than 60 percent of survey respondents said their community college maintained an annual operating budget for alumni relations. Among those institutions that specified an alumni-relations budget, the average annual amount was a paltry $23,611. To develop an alumni giving program—the cornerstone of marketing campaigns—community colleges need a healthy revenue flow for staff, technology, and donor-program development. In turn, increased donor dollars will improve existing academic programs and help support efforts to help students succeed.

There are signs of hope, they write. Community colleges have received federal grants to expand opportunities for first-generation students and increased support from foundations. Donations are up. But colleges remain short of the money needed to improve and innovate.

Going after bequests from baby boomers could help community college fund-raising campaigns, reports Community College Times.

“Within 10 years, 50 percent of community colleges will have robust planned-giving programs,” increasing from just 10 percent now, said Joe April, senior vice president with the Armistead Group, a consulting firm that specializes in fundraising for community colleges. “It’s going to be huge for the community college world.”

Community colleges provide good value

Many community colleges provide good value for students, write  John Engler and Richard W. Riley, who co-chair the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, in the Huffington Post.

Our nation’s 1,200 community colleges now enroll the majority of college freshmen and sophomores, they write. Many colleges are innovating to increase students’ learning, support low-income and minority students and work with local industries looking for well-trained workers.

At Santa Barbara City College, one of the 2013 Aspen Prize co-winners, professors push students to aspire to a bachelor’s degree.

They teach their classes to the standards of California’s four-year state universities, explicitly aligning curricula and extensive support services for students to succeed at institutions like nearby UC Santa Barbara. With success! The college has increased the share of full-time students who transfer to four-year schools to 57 percent — an exceptionally high rate.

At Walla Walla Community College, the other 2013 Aspen Prize co-winner, college leaders continually revamp programs so that students’ education meet the demands of jobs available in the region’s economy. And when the region struggles and there aren’t enough jobs, college leaders help to create them. In the last decade they founded a winemaking program, which helped jumpstart the local tourist economy. The college has become a national leader in programs ranging from wind energy to nursing to tractor maintenance. As a result, new graduates from Walla Walla earn wages that average 80 percent higher than those of other new hires in the region.

Tuition ranges from $1,400 a year in Santa Barbara to $4,000 per year in Walla Walla. Students don’t have to worry about higher interest rates on student loans because few need to borrow.

Aspen honors Santa Barbara, Walla Walla

Santa Barbara City College, which launches many students on the path to a bachelor’s degree, and Walla Walla Community College, which excels in job training, are winners of this year’s Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Each college will receive $400,000.

Kingsborough Community College, part of the City University of New York, and Lake Area Technical Institute, in Watertown, S.D. finished third and fourth and each received $100,000.

Students at each college spoke at the presentation. Edith Rodriguez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, “learned about Santa Barbara City College in a high-school assembly shortly after her release from a juvenile detention center,” reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. A six-week summer bridge program and a support group for students interested in mathematics and science persuaded her to major in electrical engineering.

Getting in front of prospective students is vital, said Lori Gaskin, president of Santa Barbara. “We reach out to students like Edith even before they set foot on campus, before they realize that college is a potential opportunity for them,” she said in an interview. “Our students don’t necessarily have role models or cheerleaders at home.”

Sixty-four percent of the college’s first-time, full-time students transfer or graduate within three years, compared with the national average of 40 percent.

Walla Walla Community College also posts higher-than-average transfer rates, but won for its workforce training programs in high-demand fields including wine making, wind energy, and watershed ecology. “In 2011 its new graduates earned $41,548, or 79 percent more than what other new hires in the region were making,” reports the Chronicle. “Since Walla Walla began its viticulture-degree program, the number of local wineries has grown from 16 to more than 170.”

Wine saves Walla Walla

By building the wine industry, Walla Walla Community College‘s Enology and Viticulture program may have saved a community, according to Learning Matters. Eighty percent of program graduates find jobs in the wine industry.

The college is one of 10 finalists for the Aspen Prize for community college excellence.

The excellence prize goes to . . .

Valencia College in Orlando, Florida has been named the first winner of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The college will collect $600,000.

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.