An Update on RCC’s Progress under Achieving the Dream
We are now well into the second year of implementation work under the initiative. There have been great steps forward, a few steps back, and surprises along the way. Before looking at the specific initiatives below, let’s be reminded of three essential facts that became evident in our study year: first, the fact that more students need to get extensive advising early in their educational experience; second, the need for improvement with the appropriateness of teaching/learning methods for our diverse student population; and third, the challenges students face in developmental (pre-100-level) courses, especially mathematics.
The engagement of full-time faculty in advisement before each semester has been institutionalized, and the level of involvement has increased; academic deans and advising staff have collaborated to make this work. A cadre of part-time faculty has been trained to do similar work and is now well experienced in providing this service. The shift for the advising staff from primary providers to resource specialists is thus moving forward in very small steps; there is still much to do to fully achieve this goal.
This is the first academic year in which the College Experience course is a firm requirement in a student’s first semester. It has been challenging to staff so many sections, but a sense of community has emerged among these faculty, who have engaged with the Dean for Student Success in discussions about curricular revision, course delivery, and text selection. We have substantially increased the percentage of first semester students taking a college experience course, from 33% in fall 2007 to 41% in fall 2009. Our target for fall 2010 is 45%. Fall 2009 first semester students who took a college experience class had fall-to-spring retention rates 23 percentage points higher than those for students not taking a college experience (56% to 33%). An ongoing need for some professional development has emerged here, but it is a case of refining a successful model, not a problem to be solved. Both faculty and students feel good about this step.
In May 2009 we began to address the ways in which a rich multi-cultural environment challenges faculty and staff as they strive to reach people with so many different kinds of prior experience. Based on a survey of the campus community, an interactive session was designed in which principles of emotional intelligence were applied to the design of appropriate and effective responses to real-life situations in the classroom and elsewhere on campus; faculty and staff worked together on these cases. The vast majority of participants said the session was useful, that more work is needed, and that a next logical phase would be to focus more sharply on particular areas of curriculum and service delivery as contexts for development of multi-cultural interventions. These are under consideration as the team for Learning Academy 2010 will soon meet and prioritize.
In the past two years we have experimented with various course combinations and schedules and seen that the logistics of our students’ lives and enrollment patterns make some communities thrive, while other great ideas never attract a critical mass. We have learned enough by now to know that our learning community program will remain at 5 or 6 groups and not expand beyond that. It can serve some students exceptionally, but will never be the answer for the majority. Moving forward, learning communities will exist primarily for first semester students in developmental education. Key components such as cohorts, dedicated tutoring, and faculty collaboration to address individual student challenges have been very successful. We have made good progress, but still need to provide further support and training, to fully realize the potential of curricular coordination and integration of tutoring with classroom practice. An unintended, but unsurprising, benefit of the learning community program has been rich cross fertilization of faculty expertise.
Though it has taken longer than expected, we are about to hire a Coordinator of Developmental Education, so some of the work in this area is only about to begin. Student support has seen the following improvements, however, in the past year: tutors reaching out to visit classes, fostering group tutoring as well as one-on-one, some facilitated study groups, the design (not yet implementation) of a mentoring program, and training for next year’s supplemental instruction program. What is still needed, and about to arrive, is someone to help integrate these initiatives, and to forge stronger connections among tutors and teachers. In addition to the new staff member, we are waiting to hear on a grant which will help us to implement these strategies.
As mentioned several places above, we’ve applied for a variety of grants this year and are waiting to hear on them. All are intended to support improvements in student service, curricular design, infrastructure to support these goals, and to provide professional development and support for student success measures.
Achieving the Dream has had a substantial effect on the College’s next strategic plan, which will become operational in Summer 2010. Student success is the core of the plan; broad engagement and creating a culture of evidence are key elements. Many of the interventions and goals mentioned above are included in the plan: ensuring better coordination and effectiveness for support services, addressing affective and logistical barriers to student engagement with support, and providing communications infrastructure to make that all possible, to name but a few of the strategic goals.
As RCC becomes increasingly data driven and self reflective, we also become more nimble as we design programs to support students. The plans we had a year ago have been partly realized, and partly changed in response to ongoing evaluation. Though we have universal goals -the success of each student- our interventions are targeted to individual groups, in keeping with the principles of equity and excellence. We invite every form of input; please be in touch if you have any questions or comments about this work.
Sterling Giles, Ed.M.