Perspectives on Student Success

September
2011
Michelle Pilati, President

While student success has always been a concern for educators, the spotlight on this topic began to burn brighter than ever last year. ASCCC responded with conversations focused on how best to define student success—and in-depth discussions about problematic means of incentivizing student success. As a consequence of the passage of Senate Bill 1143 (Liu, 2010), the California community college system (under the auspices of our Board of Governors) convened a task force with finding ways to increase student success as its goal. Over the past year, it has become evident that philosophical, broad, and multi-dimensional definitions of student success are not to be implemented—but rather fulfillment of the “completion agenda” and its objective metrics. Leaving aside a nuanced definition of student success and focusing on more traditional metrics for quantifying student success, what approaches have faculty embraced and what additional efforts could faculty support?

Faculty have embraced the concept that student preparation is critical for success. The recent changes in prerequisite regulations are intended to prompt robust faculty discussion of not only what skills students need to succeed, but why they need them. As colleges employ content review for the establishment of prerequisites, faculty will need to revisit their course outlines of records (CORs) and how those CORs are implemented in the classroom, taking measures to ensure that any new or modified prerequisites are justified. No prerequisite should be established without the commitment of all faculty who teach the target course to teach it in a manner that relies on the skills obtained in the prerequisite course or courses. As new prerequisites are put in place, accurate assessment methods and effective basic skills offerings will become even more critical than they already are. Thus, measures already taken by faculty are forcing us to think more about student success.

In the spring, the faculty supported a proposed Title 5 change to effectively link repetition for a substandard grade and withdrawal, establishing a system where a student gets three “takes” of a course, with some limited exceptions. Students—and faculty—will need to be conscious of the importance of students succeeding in a course the first time. This change will have a significant impact on the way we operate and how students think about course-taking, although some colleges have already adopted these limits. As faculty, we will need to ensure that we are effectively educating students as to the impact of these changes and possibly modifying how we teach our courses: students will need information as to their likelihood of success in a course in advance of the last date to drop without a W. Incorporating some early assessment into every class will be necessary. Keep in mind that this change is likely to go into effect in Spring 2012—with no “grandfathering” options.

What other approaches can faculty embrace? At the present time, the SB 1143 Task Force appears likely to offer a broad array of inter-related recommendations. Ideas on the table include regulatory changes aimed at increasing goal attainment at our colleges by mandating some of the fundamental foundations of a successful educational experience—e.g., assessment, placement, orientation, prompt remediation. The recommendations are still in draft form, and it is unclear what will and will not be maintained in the final report of the task force. All the early indications hint at an agenda that is accurately described as ambitious and, possibly, costly. Mandating the provision of services and specified coursework taxes both instructional and support services at a time when resources are scarce.

If we are to implement an aggressive, service-heavy agenda in the current environment, where might the funds come from or how might we change how we operate? The following list is not exhaustive, but it likely reflects some of the various perspectives on the topic:

  1. Function more like a system and “leverage” the power of “economies of scale.” Establish, across all 112 colleges, one assessment for placement option, a single enterprise management solution (with the joining of Datatel and Banner, 80% of us are using one system), one course management system, and a centralized degree audit system that can integrate information from all colleges. And, of course, e-transcripts should be a component as well. With all the dollars saved from such efforts, we should be able to afford to do anything we want—and now the cost of changes to any of these systems would be distributed across the state. While this certainly would yield some significant cost savings, the costs of implementation and the time to implement would need to be considered. After watching the decade-long process that is Banner implementation (probably not quite a decade—but are we really done yet?), I shiver at what this all would mean. And that’s in advance of even considering the challenges of identifying an assessment for placement option that truly works for us all, not to mention the cost of the diagnostic assessment that many would advocate for.
  2. Serve fewer students. Teach no more than two levels below college level and simply turn all those who are not up to our entrance standards away. Become selective community colleges. While this means we will never “produce” all the necessary degrees, we will be able to produce a number that is more proportional to the state’s investment.
  3. Abandon standards. Pass all students all the time; just move them through the system. Let them remediate at the CSU or UC.
  4. Cease offering all “high-cost” programs—or offer them at whatever cost the market will bear. Create a revenue source within the college.
  5. Stop teaching the courses you should not be teaching. If colleges simply only offered the courses that students need to reach their educational goals, our funding would be sufficient. Through the abuse of repetition and withdrawal, catering to lifelong learners, and the entertainment of the elderly, we have been denying courses to more appropriate students. If we planned our course offerings with students in mind (just, of course, the “right” students), we would discover that we’ve actually had sufficient funding all along.

All snark aside, we can certainly agree that success would be more commonly realized if students availed themselves of all appropriate support services (note “appropriate” support services, not merely those that are currently available) and were guaranteed a space in the courses that they truly need. How we do this in the current climate is not clear. When the recommendations of the SB 1143 Task Force are ready for public vetting, there will be a wide array of public forums for feedback to be provided—including our own fall plenary (November 3-5, 2011 in San Diego at the Sheraton). We hope to have faculty present at all such meetings—please watch for Town Hall meeting beginning in October. More information will be available on our website.

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