Basic Skills Initiative

March
2007
Richard Mahon, Member, Basic Skills Initiative Steering Committee

The February 2007 Teaching Institute and the March 2007 Vocational leadership Institute both provided faculty the opportunity to learn about progress in one of the most significant efforts the Senate has been involved in for the past several years: the Basic Skills Initiative. Most faculty are aware of the long debate on graduation requirements that led to the vote by the Academic Senate at the Spring 2005 Plenary Session. Fewer faculty are aware of the behind-the-scenes work of Senate president Ian Walton during the 2005-06 academic year, when Ian met with constituency groups around the state working to build support for the Senate's recommendation. Perhaps the low point in that effort came at the joint CIO/CSSO conference in Spring 2006 when both groups voted to oppose the senate's recommendation. Amazingly, by July, the representatives of both groups were sitting at the table at the Board of Governors endorsing the Senate's position and vowing to work together on behalf of the good of our students. What changed?

Conversations following the CIO/CSSO conference revealed that both groups support the Senate's desire to see associate-degree recipients leave our colleges with higher skills; but like many faculty, the CIOs and CSSOs were concerned that business-as-usual would not result in more skilled graduates, but in fewer graduates, and that only a coordinated effort by multiple constituency groups would get the attention-and funding-necessary to provide our students the support they need to meet the new graduation requirements.

The result, as elaborated at the Teaching and Vocational Institutes, has become a three-part campaign to support students' efforts to acquire higher skills in English and mathematics.

The first part began in fall 2006, though the work was just getting off the ground at the time of the Fall Plenary.

The focus of Part One was identifying interventions and initiatives that have a proven track record of producing greater success among developmental students.

The Center for Student Success and the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges, aided by a group of faculty reviewers, completed three documents very shortly prior to the Teaching Institute. Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in California Community Colleges describes proven practices in four broad areas: (1) Organizational & Administrative Practices, (2) Program Components, (3) Staff Development, and (4) Instructional Practices. This document is supported by a second document, an Assessment Tool for Effective Practices in Basic Skills, which provides a vehicle for faculty and administrators across our system to take stock of existing efforts at their colleges and to identify those practices with the potential to further improve student success. A final document, A Tool to Estimate Costs and Downstream Revenue, provides a tool that college administrators could use to calculate the revenue benefits of increased student persistence. All three documents are available for download at: http://css.rpgroup.org/.

Each of these documents was described by panelists at the Teaching Institute, which included ASCCC President Ian Walton, Carole Bogue-Feinour from the System Office, Randy Lawson on behalf of the CIOs, and Robin Richards on behalf of the CSSOs.

In order to ensure that Basic Skills as a Foundation does not become just another report collecting dust, as Part Two of the Initiative, the Senate is organizing teams of faculty and administrators to conduct regional workshops across the state, beginning in May in the Sacramento area and concluding in October at multiple locations across the state. These teams will work with local faculty and administrators as they review Basic Skills as a Foundation and reflect on how the Assessment Tool could be used to identify potential initiatives on their own campuses.

Part Three of the BSI process remains fuzzy, but the expectation of all involved is that the System Office will provide funding to support the initiatives identified by colleges as having the greatest potential to improve student success.

The System Office is initially seeking $30 million for colleges across the state, with the expectation that meaningful improvement in student success and persistence will require ongoing and increased support over the next few years.

Those colleges that sent faculty to the Teaching and Vocational Institutes were the first groups to learn about the availability of Basic Skills as a Foundation. There have been subsequent presentations at the annual CIO/CSSO meeting in San Francisco and RP/Chief Information Systems Officers Associating meeting in Orange County. The Initiatives will also be a focus of multiple breakouts at Spring Plenary, and at the Leadership and Curriculum Institutes in June and July.

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