Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Focusing on Student Success

The following is an excerpt from Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa’s State of the College Address to NWC employees August 21, 2013.

Community colleges nationwide are currently experiencing the highest expectations and the greatest challenges in our history. Sustaining our local and national economies, as well as maintaining strong communities with engaged citizens, imposes unprecedented urgency on us to produce more successful graduates.

There is emerging evidence regarding promising practices and strategies associated with student success. Data from the Center for Community College Student Engagement, the Lumina Foundation and Columbia University’s Community College Research Center show that no matter what program or practice colleges implement, it is likely to have a greater impact if its design incorporates some of the following basic principles.

A strong start: Focusing attention on the front door of the college is a smart investment. We must ensure that students’ earliest contacts and first few weeks incorporate experiences that will foster personal connections and enhance their chances of success.

Clear, coherent pathways: The many choices and options students face as they navigate through college systems can create confusion and poor use of limited financial resources and time. Creating pathways that help students move through an engaging collegiate experience improves student success.

Integrated support: One of the most important resources a college has is time. A large part of improving success involves effectively connecting with students where they are most likely to be–in the classroom. Faculty need to continually think about the precious minutes they have with students. This means building support, such as skills development and supplemental instruction, into coursework rather than referring students to services that are separate from the learning experience of a particular class.

High expectations: Students do their best when the bar is high, but within reach. Setting a high standard and then giving students necessary help such as academic planning, academic support and access to financial resources makes high standards attainable.

Design for scale: Bringing practices to scale requires a long-term commitment as well as significant political, financial and human capital. In addition to allocating – and reallocating – available funding, college presidents must continually involve faculty, staff and students in decision making.

Professional development: Improving student success requires faculty and staff not only to re-conceptualize their roles but also to work differently. This means professional development is necessary for all college employees and trustees.

Although none of these concepts is new, the body of evidence regarding these principles continues to grow. Longtime student success researcher George Kuh suggests that colleges re-channel, stop doing some things and place less emphasis on others in order to implement the practices that really matter for students. Kay McClenny, the Director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, suggests that we evaluate our college’s data in regard to these practices and use this information to prompt courageous conversations about what outcomes are most important for our continued success.

Our students need Northwest College to help prepare them for the ever-changing workforce demands as never before in our 67-year history.

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