Who Coordinates Your Campus-wide Basic Skills Efforts? Effective Organizational Practices in Basic Skills

BSI Project Coordinator with excerpts from the Basic Skills Handbook
BSI Project Coordinator

How serious are we about improving student success, especially for students with basic skills needs? What organizational strategies have been shown to be effective to help these students achieve their academic dreams?

Several factors are essential to help colleges address student success, particularly in basic skills education. Because 75-85% of our first year students assess at precollegiate levels in one or more of the foundational skills (in math, reading, or writing), we must look at student success in a new way. This requires a college-wide effort. The Basic Skills Initiative was designed to help California community colleges address this issue and provided some funding for the effort.

Collegiate success depends upon college-level skills, and yet we have no uniform requirements in the California community colleges that direct students to address these basic skills needs before taking college-level courses. As a matter of fact, according to statistics from the System Office, we know that of those 75-85% of students who assess into basic skills classes, only 27.4% are actually enrolled in courses that address those needs. Where are the rest? Taking collegiate level courses!

This affects the entire college community, in addition to the lives and academic progress of those students with basic skills needs. And, while we know that this issue about missing skills is an important issue for each individual community college, it is also becoming the focus of many external entities looking at California community colleges. How might we address this in the most effective way?

Many colleges in the past have responded to this need by creating programs in different areas across their campuses. While many of these programs have been wonderfully successful, they only work with a small cohort of students and are housed in pockets of a college. According to effective practices A.1-3 identified in Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in California Community Colleges (2007), one of the greatest challenges with developmental education for many colleges is the lack of a focused and systematic effort.

Students with basic skills needs see their college career as a seamless pathway to their academic dreams.

From Admissions and Records to Registration to Financial Aid to Counseling to the classroom-they are not concerned with each individual department's excellence or job descriptions, but rather the alignment of these disparate parts of their educational experience, working together to create a pathway to success. Though many sectors of an institution do excellent work with students who have basic skills needs, unless those labors are coordinated, the students' overall experience may be disjointed or unsuccessful. How can we build a structure that provides pathways to the top for all students with basic skills needs? How can we coordinate the efforts of everyone on a campus, integrating student services and instruction? The ASCCC feels that this work falls squarely on the shoulders of faculty, those who are given primary responsibility for student services, curriculum and programs.

For many colleges, the creation of a faculty Basic Skills Coordinator is the most effective solution to integrate and drive the services and courses they provide for students with basic skills needs ACROSS the college and between the various departments, disciplines and services. Yet, of the 42 colleges (40% of the total California community colleges) that recently responded to a survey about basic skills organization, only 18 of those colleges have a position designated as a Basic Skills Coordinator. Extrapolated to the entire system, this would indicate that less than 43% of the colleges have a person designated to coordinate this effort. (The number may be even lower if some of the colleges that failed to respond to the survey failed to respond because they had no coordinator to provide the specific details called for in the questionnaire.) Most of these coordinators are faculty positions.

So what does the position of Basic Skills Coordinator entail? Our survey revealed many commonalities that may be useful as you consider the potential need for this position on your campus.

The majority of basic skills coordinator positions have an undetermined length of service. Comments on the survey made it clear that this task is not something that can be accomplished in addition to a full-time load. In fact, many of the comments from the survey indicated that the coordination, depending upon how the college defined and organized the responsibilities, required careful analysis.

How are the majority of faculty Basic Skills Coordinators positions appointed? Some are defined as the chair of Student Success Committees, others act in a department chair role for Academic Development departments, and still others serve as a connection between student services, tutoring centers and instruction. Colleges who do not have designated Basic Skills Coordinators reported that volunteers have stepped up to the position. Some described committee chair responsibilities that simply morphed or expanded to cover this essential function. It is very clear that the requirement for campus-wide dialogue to determine the best place to invest the Basic Skills Initiative funding requires coordination, planning and inclusion of areas that have not been part of the basic skills discussions in the past.

So how are colleges spending that basic skills funding? Respondents indicated that funding would support the following activities, which correlate to the effective practices in Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in California Community Colleges

(2007). (The number in parenthesis represents the number of colleges indicating they were funding this activity.)

  • Professional development for faculty teaching basic skills courses (12)
  • Student support, such as tutors, labs (10)
  • curriculum development, redesign or interdisciplinary courses (5)
  • Additional tutors (3)
  • Tutor training (2)
  • instructional materials (2)
  • professional development travel (1)
  • reassign for discipline faculty to work on basic skills (1)
  • additional faculty led writing labs (1)
  • counseling (1)
  • funding additional small classes of basic skills that normally would not "make" (1)
  • supplies (1)
  • program needs (1)
  • funding a new writing lab (1)
  • reassigned time for faculty across the campus to organize, report and meet regarding basic skills issues (1)

We are at an unprecedented time in California community college history. Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in California Community Colleges (2007) has identified and distributed effective practices for basic skills education. A new ASCCC handbook for working with students with Basic Skills needs (look for it on the web this fall) develops the effective practices in more detail and provides examples of strategies, assignments and approaches that have proven successful with this population of students.

The Basic Skills Initiative provides money specifically designated to support basic skills and revise our processes and interventions in order to successfully address the needs of our students.

A statewide emphasis and training on student data and pedagogies is emerging. Each college has submitted basic skills action plans. Who is coordinating these things at your college?

This information and far more is available on the BSI website and in the BSI handbook at www.cccbsi.org