Facilitating the Success of ALL Students

Chair, Equity and Diversity Action Committee
Chair, Curriculum Committee

English is one of a few languages where grammar dictates that the adjective come before the noun: big house, pretty girl, green truck, etc. In other languages, the noun comes first, allowing the listener or reader to focus first on the object and secondarily on a description or characteristic of it. Has this simple element of our language affected our ability to adequately address the needs of our students? Are we hearing only “basic skills,” when a colleague refers to basic skills students? Or “Hispanic,” when someone says Hispanic students? Or is it the case that English as the universal language has it right and we should hear “Hispanic” first? Does knowing that a student is a female student cause us to generalize and stereotype her or cause us to tune in more to her? Does identification of one adjective automatically exclude students with other characteristics? Whatever happened to serving community College students?

The primary adjective used by the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges to describe students is the word “all.” The Senate has been focused on all students and their success since its inception. To realize the goal of serving all students, certain standing committees of the Academic Senate are charged with addressing issues that parallel some of the adjectives we use to describe our students. For example, the Senate has a Basic Skills Committee, an Equity and Diversity Action Committee, and an Occupational Education Committee, to name a few. Within the committees of the Senate, we are able to address the specific needs of special population students and the faculty serving these students. The Academic Senate’s committee structure acknowledges that the needs of our students vary and that efforts are needed to ensure the effectiveness of our teaching as we work with different populations of students. We celebrate the many forms of student diversity and work to help faculty across the state to better serve them knowing that strategies and efforts to support one group of students can have far-reaching, positive effects to improve success for many students.

Having committees that focus on special populations is only the beginning. On-going and far-reaching efforts are needed to provide the most beneficial learning opportunities for our “place-adjective-here” student populations. One such effort, the Basic Skills Initiative (BSI), developed due to a recognized need for students to meet the new mathematics and English graduation requirements, has had a domino effect on curriculum, student and instructional support services, professional development, and student equity measures. Many of the efforts designed to assist basic skills students have proven advantageous for all students, such as classroom assessment techniques and improved coordination between instruction and student services. The same is true of many of the strategies created for ethnic, gender or other student cohorts where the target group benefits, but so do many other students who happen to be involved in or on the receiving end of the strategies. Umoja, MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement), and student clubs are examples of efforts where the targeted students benefit, but so do other students sharing classes or activities with these students. Whether students are noncredit or credit, disabled, veterans, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender, Asian, African-American, Hispanic, part-time, basic skills, men or women, all have the opportunity to improve because of innovative efforts directed at small groups of students that invariably have widespread influence over all students.

However, BSI also revealed that some student populations experience disproportionate rates of failure or success (depending on if your cup is half empty or half full). After participating in basic skills regional meetings, developing basic skills funding plans and reading more information about basic skills learners, faculty looked at student equity data from their colleges and began to realize that more needs to be done to improve student success for all cohorts. If 70-80% of all California community college students are also basic skills students, then college efforts to increase success for basic skills students ultimately means that nearly all students benefit from those efforts. Effective teaching practices transcend a cohort.

To achieve student equity and success for all students, then, every strategy to improve student success must be on the table for consideration. Tutoring, learning communities, contextualized learning, and other approaches are being used at colleges across the state to improve success for all students. Faculty are redesigning curriculum for accelerated courses and implementing new technologies as the means to engage students and reduce the time spent completing courses or requirements. These efforts constitute interventions that help all students regardless of the characteristics of the students. As additional needs arise, additional interventions are implemented, and faculty should be encouraged to consider all ways to increase student learning and the successful completion of courses and programs of study.

Another effective strategy is the establishment of prerequisites. After more research examining practices across the nation and relying on the expertise of faculty in the state, the desire for increased student success for all students leads faculty to conclude that it is time to revisit establishing appropriate prerequisites on some courses. Keeping with the Academic Senate principle of serving all students and its insistence on considering every strategy for their success, faculty will soon be able to use their professional expertise through content review to determine if one or more prerequisites are necessary for students to successfully complete a course. Content review focuses strictly on the content and objectives of the course, making it the best tool to use for determining the knowledge and skills necessary for students to obtain prior to enrolling in a higher-level course.