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Rod Risley, executive director of Phi Theta Kappa, details his organization's college completion initiative at the AACC board of directors' retreat.
Involving community college students more in their own success is key to improving college completion rates. That was the theme of several presentations during the first day of the annual American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) board of directors’ retreat in Washington, D.C.
Community college leaders on Wednesday heard from researchers who outlined recent data regarding students as well as from student advocates who detailed initiatives to engage students in their own success.
Arlene Arnsparger, program manager for the Initiative on Student Success at the Center for Community College Survey for Student Engagement (CCCSE), focused her presentation on students’ preparedness for college-level work and improving transition services to students.
CCCSE data and focus groups show that recent high school graduates attending a two-year college often have difficulties in navigating the college system, from enrolling and registering for appropriate classes, to learning about available student aid.
“This is a new country to them when they come through our doors,” Arnsparger said.
Fewer than half of these students coming directly from high school participate in student orientation, which is, in part, why only 46 percent of them said they did not meet with an adviser when they first came to the college, Arnsparger said. She noted that participating in student orientation should be required rather than optional.
“If we know what students need, make it mandatory. That’s what students are telling us,” Arnsparger said.
Improvements in advising
When students do visit with an adviser, they often don’t get the information and tools they need to develop a pathway to success, Arnsparger said. Too often, the meetings focus on selecting individual courses to fulfill graduation requirements rather than on long-term goals such as career aspirations and pathways and short-term needs, such as time-management skills.
At the retreat, Arnsparger presented video interviews with students who expressed frustration with advisers. One student noted he was academically prepared to do college-level work, but he didn’t know how to juggle it with his other obligations, such as family and work.
Students who have a poor initial experience with an adviser are unlikely to return for additional help, Arnsparger added.
College leaders at the retreat shared examples of how to better link students with advisers, from asking faculty to encourage students to visit their advisers, to reaching out to K-12 to help younger students become more comfortable in talking with advisers before they reach college and what to expect from college advisers.
Rod Risley, executive director of Phi Theta Kappa, updated the AACC board on his organization’s initiatives to have students champion for their own successes, from signing petitions pledging to complete their associate degrees, to serving as mentors to help less-successful students attain their goals.
Risley noted an online tool kit with myriad resources to help students and colleges develop college completion campaigns. The website also includes information on various events and initiatives across college campuses. For example, Eastern Shore Community College in Virginia is focusing on reaching out to high school students to promote college completions, while Lake-Sumter Community College in Florida is pairing students in developmental education with mentors. The effort at Lone Star College in Texas is two-pronged, and includes identifying at-risk students who need mentors and encouraging students who don’t plan to complete their associate degree before transferring to do so before they move on to a baccalaureate institution.
Phi Theta Kappa is also developing a formal peer-to-peer mentoring program called Students Helping Students that it aims to launch by year’s end.
“This is the way we will be able to institutionalize student success,” Risely said.
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges