‘Accelerating Opportunity’ for more students

At West Kentucky Community and Technical College, an instructor works with students in the Accelerate You! program. (Photo: WKCTC)

In 2012, West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) joined Accelerating Opportunity Kentucky (AOKY), which allows students working toward their GED at local adult education centers to also begin college classes.

Starting in fall 2015, WKCTC decided to expand the program into a sustainable model that followed the basic principles of AOKY and included not only GED-seeking students, but students testing into remedial coursework. It also received a new name: Accelerate You! (AY!).

The idea of AY! emerged in 2014 when the former director of adult basic education recognized that applied technologies students could benefit from the AOKY design. The original AOKY program focused on placing GED-seeking students directly into a college-level math course (MAT 116) at WKCTC while completing their GED. Students received additional math instruction through math modules contextualized to their selected area of study.

A success coach attended the MAT 116 course along with students and met outside of class for one hour a week, working individually with students on basic math skills, supporting students’ GED and college-level math work.

After analyzing data for applied technologies programs, WKCTC recognized students in these programs were earning certificates, but many were not attaining the diploma or degree associated with their technical program. The missing piece to this credential completion was one course – math.

Students would complete requirements for the respective diploma or degree, but would leave the required math course for their last semester. One reason was students’ math placement scores required them to take a developmental math course. Students would struggle in the developmental math course, rarely making it to the required college-level math course needed for the credential.

The college decided to expand the AOKY model into AY!, allowing students typically placed in developmental math coursework to bypass developmental math and enroll directly in the needed college-level math course with provided supports in their first semester.

Making it work

To ease some of those concerns, individual and small group conversations established common goals for faculty, staff and students in AY!. The program incorporated a cohort design of block courses built toward pathway completion while simultaneously earning marketable credentials in employable careers.

Allowing students the opportunity to complete their college-level math course in the first semester, with supports in place, reinforced the concept that providing students with early success in a challenging subject would build student self-efficacy and lead to credential completion.

Clear communication

To expand AY! to a broader base of students, communication channels had to be opened across functions of the campus. Student support services, faculty and administration needed to understand the target population for the program and potential benefits for students.

(Photo: WKCTC)

Information regarding the program was shared in many contexts: faculty meetings, division trainings, professional development sessions and small-group meetings. Faculty willing to continue the rigor of the course and rethink traditional teaching approaches in the classroom were sought. Alignment of faculty personalities compatible for the AY! program was needed. Recognition of the dynamic between faculty and success coaches in team-taught classrooms was measured against the potential for enhancement or hindrance toward student success in the program.

The demand of quality communications among parties was constantly checked to maintain momentum towards student success. Frequent conversations, observations, meetings and check points to ensure concerns could be addressed and solved created positive collegial engagements as well as excellence in teaching and learning.

Challenges

As with most endeavors in higher education, challenges had to be met head-on. Developmental education faculty who understood underprepared students’ needs were now asked to meet the challenge of supporting underprepared students in the college-level course. Garnering best practices from classroom experience, developmental math faculty in the AY! program mitigated concerns voiced by college-level math faculty.

Another challenge was helping faculty work with success coaches in their classrooms for the first time. Training opportunities and meetings prior to each semester provided faculty and success coaches opportunities to discuss ideas and build professional relationships. The faculty and success coach relationship solidified the cohort model and provided another layer of support and encouragement for students to build connections and engage in coursework.

Moving forward

Recognizing students’ needs and removing barriers while providing supports toward success will continue to drive WKCTC’s plans to sustain AY!. Early data from the first year of the program show overall and first-time AY! students persisted fall-to-spring and fall-to-fall at a greater rate than students taking the same set of courses the previous fall term prior to the AY! program.

Data also show first-time students in the AY! courses had a higher cumulative GPA than students taking the same courses without supports in the previous fall. These statistically significant successes occurred with a group of students who, based on placement scores, would not traditionally be placed in the college-level course.

This early success supported the expansion of AY! in more applied technology programs as well as into WKCTC’s health science technology meta-major.

The first phase of AY! also allowed the college the opportunity to partner with Jobs For the Future. This partnership included exploring best practices and return on investment tools, and engagement with like-minded institutions. WKCTC will continue to build support for the program, collect and analyze data, and continue helping students find success without placing additional hurdles in the way.

About the Author

Megan Dotson, David Heflin and Sanci Teague

Megan Dotson is reading coordinator and Accelerate You! director at West Kentucky Community and Technical College. David Heflin is the college’s associate vice president of academic affairs. Sanci Teague is dean of transitional education and coordinator of First-Year Experience at WKCTC.