SEM Phase III: From students to graduates

Student lifecycle from pre-enrollment to graduate and donorBy Daniel DeMarte
Vice President for Academic Affairs

The first two phases of Strategic Enrollment Management have been about attracting applicants and having them enroll as TCC students.

Once we have them, we have to keep them. But we haven’t been terribly successful at this.

Returning students, who represent the best opportunities for program completion, are down 5.9 percent for spring 2016.

Why do students drift? These are some of the reasons:

  • Our catalog is difficult to navigate
  • General education requirements are too confusing
  • Students don’t understand prerequisites or course sequencing
  • They withdraw from courses without consulting an advisor
  • They receive insufficient advising
  • They change majors late in their academic careers

We boast in our advertising that we have 150 programs and hundreds of courses. That range of choices can be a good thing, but most students are uncertain about their career interests, so they feel overwhelmed.

The result?

Only 13.2 percent of full-time TCC students complete a two-year degree in three years. Even after four years, the graduation rate is a paltry 20 percent.

VCCS has called for a tripling of credentials by 2021, so clearly, we have to do better.

As part of the third phase of SEM, TCC is fundamentally changing its approach to academics and student retention. I will talk more about it in my next post.

20 thoughts on “SEM Phase III: From students to graduates

  1. TCC Norfolk Math Department is moving from MyMathLab via Pearson to My Open Math (MOM), the latter of which is no charge or next to nothing charge. Thus, there will be no future or little future financing for the developmental math courses. Thus, this unspent money is available for college level courses. The Math Pathways Project is also working to make math courses and their instruction more learning oriented and expedient across Virginia via the VCCS and each CC’s participation..

    In short, there are several efforts initiated that will improve the courses and their instruction for the students’ successful learning. We should never stop or even slowdown toward the improving accomplishment of this worthwhile goal.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be a large gap between what and how math is taught in secondary schools and the post-secondary academic expectations for incoming students. Thus is especially true with the apparent frequent secondary level miss-use of the Math Standards of Learning (SOL) versus the expectancy of math knowledge, understanding and its application by the universities, colleges and community colleges. This gap can be somewhat bridged by such groups as Virginia Regional Council of Teachers of Mathematics (VCTM) and the Tidewater Council of Teachers of Mathematics (TCTM), which some secondary and post-secondary math instructors attend.

    However, there needs to be a method(s) to formally convey the post-secondary expectations to the secondary schools, school boards, students, teachers, secondary school administrators, and parents of those secondary students.

    It has been my hope that SEM Phase III would work on helping to bridge this gap. If it does, then I would be glad to participate in this SEM Phase III effort.

    • So well put Jack! There is a HUGE gap between what upper education expects and what high schools deliver!
      Here is a typical answer to my question: “Have you ever studied a foreign language?”
      ” No, I should of took a language in middle school. Or in high school.”

    • Well put Jack! The gap between the skills colleges expect and what secondary education generally provides is HUGE! The system is failing our youth! Here is a typical line from a student’s paragraph:
      “I should of took French. In middle school or in high school.”
      No grammar, punctuation, no sense of sentence structure… and of course the absence of critical thinking skills.

    This is YET ANOTHER great article from The Atlantic that I read back in May15. I am pasting an excerpt below to entice you to read it:
    “The most revolutionary part of the program had nothing to do with tuition and got far less media attention. In their announcement, Starbucks and Arizona State also committed themselves to providing all enrolled employees with individualized guidance—the kind of thing affluent American parents and elite universities provide for their students as a matter of course. Starbucks students would each be assigned an enrollment counselor, a financial-aid adviser, an academic adviser, and a “success coach”—a veritable pit crew of helpers. Like a growing number of innovative colleges around the country, Starbucks and Arizona State were promising to prioritize the needs of real-life students over the traditions of academia.”

    • When Strayer University was advertising heavily on Hulu with Steve Harvey as their spokesperson, they used the same approach: You are assigned a success coach who sticks with you every step of the way.

      Info Center folks frequently tell us that our students need a lot of hand-holding. This certainly addresses that need.

  3. As a grant-based career coach at TCC for over 3 years, I found this quote from Daniel DeMarte interesting:

    “We boast in our advertising that we have 150 programs and hundreds of courses. That range of choices can be a good thing, but most students are uncertain about their career interests, so they feel overwhelmed.”

    There is a gap in career guidance on TCC campuses. Ms. Babi Brock and her staff do a FANTASTIC job with the career center on the Virginia Beach campus. However, that is not sufficient for students that never go to the center, or do not attend that campus. Career coaching has a huge effect on students knowing what they want to do and staying motivated. This cannot fall back on the already overwhelmed advising staff.

    There need to be career centers on EACH campus that follow the same guidelines and are staffed by experienced career coaches that are on-site to help students with resumes, interviewing skills, etc. This would have a huge effect on retention for students. In my opinion, colleges function as a three or four-legged stool. Administration, academics and student services allow the college to function or “balance”, but leave a significant gap. Consistent career coaching/career services added to the other three provide a far more stable base and will catch a lot of students who fall through the gaps. Even students who aren’t doing well in classes may still want help with resumes. This model could also assist in centralizing certain workshop activities and working with other student service groups.

    I am eager and excited to see TCC continue to grow and I want to be a part of that change. We have had much improvement, but still need to do more. Thank you.

  4. An administrator told me recently that “Students are wasting too much time in developmental classes.” The administrator went on to clarify that students are wasting too much financial aid on developmental classes and that they run out of monies before they can graduate. And one of the things that I heard at the Pathways meeting this January, was that developmental classes need to be consolidated so that students don’t have to take as many developmental classes. I am guessing so that they have monies left to finish their degree.

    First, one of the hallmarks of community colleges is open enrollment regardless of your educational background. Many students enter TCC with deficient reading , writing, and math skills. These students need our help more than any other students. The skills they learn in developmental are a gift to them. They will be able to read at a higher level, be able to write coherent sentences, and do basic math. This is something that will help them with their life, their job, and their future, so much more than perhaps a degree.

    An now, you want to short change them by pushing them through faster all for the sake of graduation rates. They were pushed through in public schools, and look where they are – with low skill levels. Are we going to do the same thing to them that failed them in public school? Shame on us if that is the case.

    Developmental courses for some students are gifts we need to “give” them. If they don’t graduate, then fine. We have done our duty as a “Community” college to help students improve.

    • I agree. It would be somewhat like the military academy screening process. If you do not quite have what it takes academically to enter the academy, you can attend one-year of ‘preparatory’ work in math, science, and language if need be. Those who make it through often get into the academy, those that don’t go elsewhere. In some respects the ‘buck must stop here’, needs to happen in order to have productive members in society, or else we continue to have persons seem to be castaways …

  5. Oh! now let’s see, just a thought mind you. How about good old face to face w/ our students? We have given that up for numbers. And I get it for our survival. However, we need to have more time guiding our students towards graduating. Sorta hard to do advising them online. Even if it is an online course we should still have meeting dates so you can at least meet and greet and advise. Our numbers went up VCCS wide w/ the onset of Online Education a number of years ago. That has played out and students our somewhat losing interest and playing the system. Trust me I have taught both ways and hands down face to face or hybrid meeting once a week keeps them in class and motivated to graduate…just a thought mind you.

    • I agree with Butch – the best method to improve student success in phase III is one-on-one. Some students have clearly defined goals, just need help navigating their course load-to-degree; some students really do not know yet and just need help getting started down a defined path with the most options. I think the method should be as simple as possible; to integrate the students goals (should be tailored to their interests, and discussion about getting a job, starting and toward a career) and a clear path toward that goal. Perhaps on a single page or two showing their current education/training baseline, and moving through TCCs various capabilities. This could be implemented with a combination of counsellors and teachers.

  6. When students withdraw without notifying financial aid they lose financial aid. I came across this with a student. In order to get it back, there are very specific items that the student must address in a letter to the financial aid department to become eligible again. After the student’s unsuccessful attempts with the letter, I learned that the women’s center has a template that can be followed to make sure that all the proper items are addressed so the student can again receive financial aid. Perhaps counselors and financial aid could provide more guidance about what needs to be in the letter. Otherwise, losing financial aid is daunting to students.

  7. Faculty are among the many TCC employees interfacing with students but cannot carry the load alone to retain students. Need to clean up some of the issues Dr DeMarte identified above.

    The college spends too much TV ad time on debt versus content regarding the TCC programs. Students want to know what programs TCC has that will help them in their career path.

    Examine TCC curriculum and educational technology to see if it is preparing the TCC graduate for a 21st century workplace.

    A TCC Curriculum Guide Sheet interactive mobile app would be highly usable by these 21st century learners to keep them posted with real time information about their status at TCC.

    When we cancel classes, students will not automatically travel to another campus to take the class especially if they have transportation barriers.

    21st century tutoring centers would be a wonderful resource to the 21st century learner. This is an interactive student body TCC is dealing with. The current tutorial centers are clearly 20th century in nature.

    The TCC website still contains archaic information on some of its old web pages.

    TCC faculty, key campus leaders and staff should have modern web sites. Many of the current TCC personnel websites are not personable nor informational or interactive enough to attract students to spend time on.

    TCC needs to be bold and explain to the K-12 leadership what TCC expects of their graduates. Otherwise, they will continue to prepare SOL memory graduates that will continue to arrive at TCC with retention problems for the college.

    It is time to become a 21st century community college. Clearly, 20th century strategies are not working as reflected in successive enrollment declines.

  8. I still think accurate and appropriate academic counseling is key for the retention of students. Having worked with the primary counselors in SEM II, I think they know how to advise students very well. It seems ot be others who perform academic advising who are sometimes steering students to take unnecessary or inappropriate courses in their major curriculum path. I have experienced this several times with students attending my courses. It is very confusing, confounding and frustrating to the students.

    I suggest complete training with written guidelines provided to all persons who perform academic advising. I also suggest that faculty be used for advising, since they are boots on the ground in daily interface with the students.

  9. Please let us know how we can be more clear about our general education requirements in the College Catalog or better inform students about course sequencing and prerequisites. Our general education requirements are listed on one page of our Catalog, and when students have a choice, they are directed to that page. Further, our curricula are presented in a logical, sequential order by semester. Requisites are listed in SIS, our class schedule, our College Catalog and I-INCURR. Given this, what can we do differently? If these are issues for us, how can we make improvements?

    • Kellie,
      I wondered the same thing as I read. Students can Google anything that interests them, and they can show me how to do almost anything regarding my computer. However, when they need the same problem solving skills to find answers about TCC, our policies, or work in a particular class, they claim total ignorance.

      I also wondered how students who are unable to read, write, and compute basic math at the high school level, let alone the college level, can be moved more quickly through the courses. Eliminating the support system is not going to help.

      They also fail to account for the time they must spend on courses and planning for future success while they are outside the classroom or on campus (or online at TCC).

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