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A first-of-its-kind, statewide public awareness campaign that is encouraging and supporting students to earn an associate degree is set to kick off this week in New York.
Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) will lead the Oct. 3 event—New York Completion Day: Commit, Complete, Compete—which will include a variety of festivities, events and completion-oriented campaigns at 37 community colleges in New York. The statewide effort could serve as a model for other states as public two-year colleges across the country aim to dramatically increase college completion rates by decade’s end, according to supporters. Other states such as Nebraska are already eyeing a similar campaign geared to raise broader awareness to students’ role in committing to complete a credential, whether a degree or certificate.
New York Completion Day—which is sponsored by the State University of New York, the City University of New York, Phi Theta Kappa and the New York Community College Association of Presidents (NYCCAP)—was developed by NYCCAP through the recommendation of Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director Rod Risley.
FLCC President Barbara Risser, who serves as the NYCCAP committee chair on the event, said organizing the events included strategic planning and coordination between faculty, staff, administrators and students so activities are meaningful. FLCC will offer information sessions for students to develop middle skills and soft skills to help find good job opportunities after they graduate. For example, a scavenger hunt will require students to visit such student services departments as academic advisement, tutoring and financial aid.
“We have built into the program lots of opportunities for students to think through the issue of completion and what it means to them and their future,” Risser said. “We want to have students build some skills. What can they do to help support their completion? That is what this day is about, and it has been a really interesting project to see all of the colleges work together in this way.”
In addition to the college’s events, Phi Theta Kappa will continue its Community College Completion Core commit-to-complete signing campaign, which started last week.
As part of its scheduled activities, FLCC will include guest speaker Isa Adney, author of Community College Success: How to Finish with Friends, Scholarships, Internships, and the Career of Your Dreams. Adney enrolled in a community college rather than a private school that accepted her in order to not burden her parents financially while they dealt with medical debt due to one brother’s short-term paralysis and another’s epilepsy. Through hard work, determination, networking and her involvement in extracurricular activities, Adney ultimately earned an associate degree and a $110,000 scholarship that covered her bachelor’s degree in communication from Stetson University and a master’s degree in training and development from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Completion Day will also include a video featuring several prominent New York community college alumni that will play at all campuses. The alumni include NASA Astronaut Eileen Collins, who attended Corning Community College, and New York State Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, an FLCC alumnus, among others.
The community colleges will also include unique events. Cayuga Community College is hosting a panel discussion featuring recent alumni sharing the struggles they faced while striving to earn an associate degree. At Corning Community College and Monroe Community College, faculty, staff and administrators will don their alma mater sweatshirts and engage with students in discussions about what motivated them to graduate. Jefferson Community College will feature posters around campus that ask students how a college degree leads to professional rewards. A human service display, for instance, invites students to “Ask me how I saved a life.”
More state events in the works
According to Risley, New York’s Completion Day is the first of several statewide completion days that are currently under development around the country. The head of Phi Theta Kappa has over the past couple of years been spreading the completion-matters message at convocations and commencements and through numerous presentations and meetings with community college students, faculty, staff and administrators.
Risley recommends that colleges address the completion agenda “on a statewide coordinated basis where all the stakeholders are informed at the same time with the same message in terms of why completion matters to their students, to their colleges, to their communities and to the nation as a whole. If we can get the states to do this in a concerted way, it is going to have a greater impact.”
In Nebraska, for instance, representatives from all the state’s community colleges have been invited to work together to focus on completion during the Nebraska Community College Association meeting in November.
“For the first time, the trustees, the faculty, the staff, the students and the presidents are all coming together under one roof from all the colleges in the state to hear the message of why completion matters,” Risley said. “They will be sitting down and developing action plans on how to go forward and implement this program.”
Getting faculty more engaged
Risley has also been in talks with community colleges officials in New Jersey and Montana—with more states on the horizon—about developing statewide completion days.
“We are taking C4 to a whole different level next year,” Risley said, adding that, in particular, he wants to get faculty more involved.
“We will be asking faculty for their support and pledge to help students complete,” he said. “They will have a whole different commitment to sign. We think we can get more engagement from faculty to increase learning outcomes that will lead to completion.”
Copyright ©2014 American Association of Community Colleges