Reaching out to prospective students

Jabari Simama, president of Georgia Piedmont Technical College, discusses his college's dual-enrollment programs. (Photo: Matthew Dembicki)

NEW ORLEANS – Dual enrollment is currently hot in the community college field. At some colleges, it makes the bulk of new enrollments.

But there are myriad ways two-year colleges are partnering with K-12 schools to reach prospectice college student and to better prepare them for postsecondary work, especially students from low-income and first-generation college families.

Take Cerritos College in southeast Los Angeles County. Three-quarters of its students qualify for free tuition under a state initiative. Ninety-five percent of students are in developmental math, and 85 percent take developmental English. Only 15 percent of students graduate on time.

Cerrritos leaders and officials from colleges with similar challenges shared strategies to better prepare K-12 students for college during a session at the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention.

Get it in writing

To tackle the problem, the college created the Cerritos Promise, which is not your typical Promise program. Since most of the students who attend Cerritos already don’t have to pay tuition, students who qualify for the program get book vouchers. They also sign a contract that, among other things, requires them to take a math and English course in their first year at the college.

“We have a large number of students ready to graduate, but they can’t” because many hold off taking required math and English courses, said Jose Fierro, president/superintendent of Cerritos. To help those students, the college created its Accelerated Instruction in Math and English (AIME) program, which is geared to quickly get students up to speed to do college-level work.

Again, to join AIME, students must sign an agreement that they will participate in structured student groups at least three hours a week over nine weeks, atttend two hours of tutoring in the college’s Success Center if their math and English teacher refers them, and pass their math and English courses with a grade of “C” or better.

Students who complete the requirements are guaranteed enrollment in their next courses through college-level math and/or English.

Reaching parents

Another strategy Cerritos uses is hosting a Parents Night for prospective students. Fierro noted the college sends counselors to local high schools to talk with students, but reaching the parents of these students to convey the importance of a higher education is especially important.

Across the country at Davidson County Community College (DCCC) in North Carolina, President Mary Rittling has also looked at how the college can adapt its efforts to the local culture. Her college’s service area went into an economic spiral when the furniture-making industry in the area dried up. Until then, many residents would turn 16 and get a job at a local wood-based company. Not anymore. But it’s still a challenge to convince residents that a postsecondary education is needed to find jobs in emerging industries.

Although DCCC has teamed with local schools to create three middle college programs, through which half of participating students earn an associate degree, Rittling said that she wanted to go deeper.

“Reaching students in high school is not enough,” she said. “And we have to connect with parents.”

In September, DCCC will start sending out a van for outreach, focusing on where local residents gather most: at church and sporting events. The goal is to highlight the value of higher education to interest potential students, both young students and adults looking for a new career or to update their skills.

“We have to start going to the population instead of thinking the population will comes to us,” Rittling said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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