Over the last ten years, as a participant in the Achieving the Dream initiative, the College has made intentional progress toward improving services and opportunities with the goal of improving student persistence and degree completion.
Examples of these efforts include: Modified the new student registration process; redesigned the comprehensive new student orientation program; established the Center for Male Engagement geared toward assisting African American males; implemented an early alert system; refocused efforts on professional development for faculty; and piloted programmatic initiatives for students needing developmental education. While these efforts have shown some positive impact for small groups of students, it is clear that innovating on the margins will not produce the overall impact needed to transform the experience for all students to have the opportunity for improved success.
Over the last five years, key performance indicators measuring student outcomes have remained virtually unchanged. Fall to fall persistence for new full-time students is 54 percent. For new part-time students the fall to fall persistence rate is 41 percent.
The number of associate degrees and certificates awarded is only at 10 percent as measured by the national benchmark (three-year cohort, full time, first time in college).
At the same time that the College has sought to implement positive changes for students, a changing landscape of increased accountability measures, lack of increases in public financial support and tightening of financial aid regulations, have challenged the College to think in new ways. The forecast that traditional-age enrollment is on the decline necessitates an increase in the persistence of entering students in order to maintain adequate enrollment to support the College’s financial stability. In an increasingly competitive landscape coupled with financial challenges, the College must position itself as a formidable institution positioned to effectively react to today’s environment.
“Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success” (Bailey, Jaggars, Jenkins) describes the situation this way:
“…[open-door] colleges designed to maximize course enrollment are not well designed to maximize completion of high-quality programs of study. In particular, the emphasis on low-cost enrollment has encouraged colleges to offer an array of often- disconnected courses, programs and support services that students are expected to navigate mostly on their own.”
To combat this, the Guided Pathways reform effort focuses on providing students with a highly structured experience. This experience is driven by providing students with clear academic program roadmaps, an onboarding process that clarifies student goals and career direction, facilitates access into a program of study for students with developmental education needs and provides intentional advising coupled with progress tracking and individually-designed support.
While reform is not easy, it is now more than ever a necessity in a changing economic and accountability environment. Beyond this, it is an obligation that the College community must embrace to more fully realize a collective vision of improving student lives upon achievement of their goals. The Guided Pathways framework holds the most promise to achieve this vision. The implementation of this model will require significant redesign. It will test long-established assumptions and traditional models of how students are served. It will require a hard look at the values and beliefs that are inherent in current practices, structure and systems. It will embrace what is working well and what needs to change guided by evidence-based practices. Through full-scale implementation of redesigned programs and support services, the College will set a new trajectory for greater student success guided by the continued and collective efforts of faculty, staff and students.
Dr. Samuel Hirsch