John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Association of American Colleges & Universities: Peer Review

 

Like other community colleges, Lansing Community College (LCC) has experienced many challenges in its efforts to increase completion rates for students pursuing credentials and degrees. In its good-faith efforts to address these challenges, LCC has learned that piecemeal, isolated approaches, though helpful in many ways, will not ameliorate the larger, systemic problems that prevent the maximizing of student success.

With this understanding in mind, LCC has enthusiastically embarked on a bold, comprehensive, culture-changing initiative aimed at ensuring success for all students wishing to obtain certificates and degrees or transfer to a four-year school. Entitled “Operation 100%: Achieving Excellence in Student Learning and Success at Lansing Community College,” this initiative sets as its goal 100 percent completion for students in degree, certificate, or transfer pathways. Central to the successful implementation of Operation 100% is an understanding that its goal is more an attitude than a measure, more a commitment to expected institutional behavior supporting student learning and success than an aim for perfection. To this end, we have initiated many new measures and processes to advance our own internal work as well as our work with both a state-based and a national student success pilot program.

Instituting New Campus Student Success Measures 

Operation 100% involves several major redesigns. For example, understanding the crucial importance of advising to the completion agenda, and recognizing the often burdensome caseloads for advisors, LCC is in the process of automating its registration system to ensure that students stay on track in their programs and that automated, real-time alerts are provided to faculty and advisors when students experience difficulty. This automation will enable advisors to have regular contact with students during the semester so that they can offer students just-in-time, personalized, ongoing, high-level support that will help ensure that students either remain on track and receive immediate, relevant intervention when necessary or change tracks appropriately.

To help ensure college readiness, LCC is developing advising protocols for connecting advisors with students before the students enter the college. In addition, the college has radically redesigned its application for prospective students; the new application is populated with predictive analytic questions aimed at helping the college understand from the start a student’s strengths and challenges prior to the student’s beginning to take classes. LCC is also undertaking a major overhaul of its intake, orientation, and student support processes (orientations will be ongoing, and support will be provided to students even prior to their taking classes). By the end of the 2015–2016 academic year, all new students will have education plans, that will be regularly reviewed and updated and that will both contain realistic timeframes for completion and establish the criteria for accurate tracking of student progress. Given the importance of support networks to a student’s success, LCC is also creating a model for support teams that will include peers, mentors, faculty, advisors, and when appropriate, family and community members.

Space does not permit a full accounting of all Operation 100% major projects (such as, for example, the redesign of the college’s website, the increased use of contextualized instruction within programs and within linked and team-taught course sections, and the redesign of general education into a nondistributive, integrated learning model). Nevertheless, as promising as all of these initiatives are, LCC has realized two essential undertakings pertaining to the success of Operation 100%. First, because many students—especially those from historically underrepresented groups or those with otherwise underprivileged backgrounds—struggle to succeed in gateway courses, LCC has committed to ensuring tha tall students succeed in these courses. Second, the college recognizes that, per the seemingly popular notion, students “do not do options well.” However, rather than blame the victim by holding the student responsible for not understanding how to navigate our often mystifying paths to completion, LCC has committed to offering students only well-conceived, highly structured academic programs containing only those options that will lead to student success.

Engaging with Partners for Student Success

To these ends, LCC is engaged in two major pilots, one national and one statewide. In its ongoing effort to ameliorate the completion impediment caused by high rates of attrition in gateway courses, LCC is among a handful of colleges participating in the Gateways to Completion (G2C) national pilot project undertaken by the nonprofit John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (the Gardner Institute). LCC was the first community college accepted to participate in the G2C pilot and is one of only three community colleges in the nation taking part in the Gardner Institute’s inaugural cohort of thirteen G2C institutions. Similarly, as part of its ongoing work to construct guided program pathways for all of its academic programs, LCC is among the first cohort of twelve community colleges in Michigan to participate in the Michigan Center for Student Success’ statewide “Michigan Guided Pathways Institute.”

Gateways to Completion

The G2C program is a comprehensive course transformation pilot process that mobilizes institutions—particularly faculty at the institutions—to substantially improve student learning and success in historically challenging gateway courses. The Gardner Institute launched G2C in response to lessons learned from its previous work, as well as from national research that correlates lack of success in gateway courses with higher attrition and lower completion rates (Adelman 2006).

For purposes of the G2C effort, the Gardner Institute has defined gateway courses as credit-bearing and/or remedial education courses that have both high rates of failure (as measured by rates of D [drop], F [fail], W [withdraw], and I [incomplete] grades—DFWI rates) and high enrollment within or across sections. Developmental education courses are included in this definition because, in effect, they serve as gateways to the gateway courses.

The G2C process takes into account various forms of instruction—face-to-face, blended, and online. The process also provides analytics tools that allow institutions to collect and analyze historic DFWI rate data, and predictive analytics tools that allow faculty to intervene with at-risk students currently enrolled in their courses. In addition, G2C provides a teaching and learning academy that helps deepen faculty knowledge and increases application of engaging pedagogies in gateway courses—pedagogies that are associated with increased student learning and success (Freeman et al. 2014).

The thirteen pilot institutions involved in G2C are already reporting positive student and institutional-level outcomes, including

  • increases in first- to second-term retention rates;
  • decreases in numbers of students in poor academic standing;
  • increases in A, B, and C grades;
  • decreases in D, F, W, and I grades;
  • lower course repetition rates; and
  • higher performance in the next course in the sequence.

LCC’s experiences with G2C have yielded comparable results.

After holistically and carefully examining the college’s top high-enrollment, high-DWFI courses, LCC elected to transform five courses as part of the three-year G2C process. These five courses are key to popular majors or are key transfer courses that touch many other disciplines. The selection process was thorough, involving collaborative, cross-functional efforts by, among others, faculty from many disciplines, divisional administrative leaders, and persons working in the college’s Center for Data Science. All of these efforts were guided by the G2C Steering Committee, and the project, initiated by faculty, has been faculty-led from the start.

The five selected courses are Principles of Accounting I, Biological Foundation for Physiology, US History: 1877 to Present, Intermediate Algebra, and Composition I. To date, four of the five courses have seen overall decreases in DFWI, and several courses have seen some decreases in DFWI rates among students of color. Faculty have used the G2C process and concomitant analyses of data to engage in important revisions of course learning outcomes (for example, Composition I faculty developed information literacy and collaboration and discussion learning outcomes for the course); faculty have begun having “Promising Practices” meetings to facilitate information sharing; in their regular department meetings, faculty have now begun sharing information about high-impact practices; faculty have been engaged in cross-disciplinary aligning of learning outcomes; both teaching and non-teaching faculty have worked to increase access to tutoring and supplemental instruction; and so on. In short, the G2C initiative has been transformative for the college, allowing faculty to engage in exciting, data-informed course revision marked by engaged, cross-divisional collaboration. It is now commonplace at the college for faculty to discuss both why the college needs to and how it can most effectively implement or augment student-learning-focused continuous improvement efforts.

Considered a leader among leaders in the national G2C work, LCC has presented at various regional and national meetings, including discipline-specific meetings (in accounting and history). Entering the third year of the pilot, LCC is focusing its G2C work on achieving even greater success for students taking the five chosen gateway courses and on applying G2C-developed best practices to strengthen other courses at the college. In addition, because the G2C work has resulted in data-informed best practices, the college is integrating this work into the program-level work undertaken in the Guided Program Pathways initiative (see below). Important correlations discovered in measuring student success—for example, that students who successfully completed Composition I succeeded in US History: 1877 to Present at a higher rate than did students who did not take Composition I first—have yielded valuable information that is being used as faculty construct course sequences in Guided Program Pathways. And, since both the G2C and the Guided Program Pathways projects involve many faculty (including many of the same faculty), the integrated work for these two projects approaches an ideal level of collaboration and seamlessness.

Guided Program Pathways

As key as gateway or other individual courses are to a student’s successfully completing a degree or certificate or transferring successfully to a four-year school, ultimately, completion and transfer goals are best met when the student follows a well-conceived, well-designed, carefully constructed program of study that contains only relevant courses, a high degree of integrated learning, and clear pathways through these experiences. LCC’s Guided Program Pathways project, a key part of Operation 100%, is being implemented in collaboration with the Michigan Guided Pathways Institute (GPI).

GPI, funded by The Kresge Foundation, is a three-year initiative of the Michigan Center for Student Success (MCSS) to build awareness of and capacity for guided pathways among Michigan’s twenty-eight community colleges. With evidence increasingly pointing to structural problems at institutions as a fundamental contributor to the low completion rates, the overwhelming number of programmatic choices, coupled with poorly aligned support systems, presents significant challenges to students as they attempt to get on (and stay on) a clear path toward a credential. Leveraging the pioneering work of several national initiatives that have sought to tackle these institution-wide structural issues, GPI is designed to create a sustained community of practice among participating colleges, with substantial technical assistance from leading experts at the Community College Research Center, Jobs for the Future, the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, and Public Agenda.

To be a part of a GPI cohort, colleges must commit to fully and actively participate in a series of in-person and virtual convenings; to identify a GPI lead (or co-leads) who will be supported to ensure that the project remains on track; and to designate a cross-functional steering team including representatives from faculty, advisors, academic and student services administrators, and other stakeholders as needed.

Institutions begin their participation with GPI by mapping programs, defining default course sequences, and prescribing appropriate general education and elective options. They will complete this process for all of their campus programs in broad strokes, proceeding to more detailed scenarios, including sequences for full- and part-time students and the incorporation of developmental instruction where required. The expectation for the first cohort of colleges (including LCC) is to have implemented guided pathways and make them available for new students registering in fall 2016. Each pathway will include the following design principles, which are adapted from Davis Jenkins’ work at the Community College Research Center:

  • clearly specified further education and employment goals for every program;
  • a full-program curriculum map with a default semester-by-semester sequence of courses to complete the program;
  • exploratory or “meta-majors” to help entering students choose a program of study;
  • identification of critical courses and other milestones students are expected to attain in each semester;
  • program learning outcomes aligned with the requirements for success in further education and employment, with necessary assessment strategies in place;
  • policies for intentional advising at intake to assist students in selecting a program; and
  • policies and procedures to provide timely feedback to students when they meet benchmarks or get “off track” in their selected program.

Once an initial pathways “system” is implemented, the first cohort of colleges are expected to continue to refine and sustain their efforts and to commit to sharing data and lessons learned with other Michigan colleges and with MCSS.

The first group of LCC academic programs to be created within a Guided Program Pathways model includes the electrical technology program and the fashion technology program, which will serve as guided program pathway models for programs in the college’s Technical Careers Division, and most of the programs from the college’s Health and Human Services Division (for example, child development, surgical technology, and diagnostic medical sonography), which are already fairly well structured. The college will continue developing Guided Program Pathways throughout the 2015–2016 academic year, and both students and advisors will use Ellucian’s “Degree Works” to ensure that students remain on track in their Guided Program Pathways.

A faculty member coordinates both the college’s Guided Program Pathways project and the work of the project’s steering committee. The steering committee, in turn, has established eight work groups, each of which is charged with making recommendations for best practices in creating the following key components of all program pathways: program mapping; career communities (e.g., exploratory, meta-majors); accurate tracking of students’ progress and timely support for students; predictable semester- and program-level schedules; contextualized instruction opportunities; bridges to college for high school students and adult learners; seamless transfer opportunities; and dual admission/guaranteed transfer agreement opportunities for students wishing to pursue baccalaureate degrees.

A set of key principles underlies and guides the work of the Guided Program Pathways project: (1) pathways will be developed and reviewed with a focus on quality assurance and transfer/career relevance; (2) students will not need permission to register for a course along the path but will need to consult with an advisor if they wish to register for a course not on the path or if they are having trouble staying on track; (3) career communities will be created so that students can explore more general areas of study without losing time or taking unnecessary courses; (4) all courses within a career community will also be on the specific program pathway (in that community) that a student eventually chooses to follow; (5) to the extent possible, required math and writing courses will be program-specific, and general education courses will align with technical coursework; and (6) faculty will continue to develop ways to minimize students’ time in so-called developmental education courses without also compromising these students’ chances of succeeding in their college-level courses.

Throughout its history, LCC has engaged in many important endeavors to help students succeed. Our work with the Guided Program Pathways project has already proved to be one of the most significant initiatives ever undertaken by the college. A strongly collaborative effort, it involves the active participation of faculty and staff from across the college. Most important, time and again students have vocally expressed their gratitude that the college is involved in this work and their wish that the pathways were already in place.

Conclusion

The completion problem nationally is both urgent and demanding. It calls for nothing short of bold, culture-changing solutions. Although many of us at community colleges have known for quite some time that large numbers of students fail to complete the certificate or degree that they had hoped to achieve, until relatively recently comprehensive remedy options have not been readily available to us. Such is no longer the case. In the interest of our students and citizenry, there is no time to lose in drawing from the effective models of systemic change—such as G2C and Guided Program Pathways—that advance the cause of success for all students.

LCC’s Operation 100% substantively engages this imperative. The stakes are too high and both the risks and the benefits—to students, families, communities, and the nation—are too great for us to do otherwise. We welcome and embrace the opportunity to act, and we are working with all deliberate speed to effect the desired ends.

Acknowledgments

The authors acknowledge and thank Martine Rife and Christine Conner not only for their leadership of the G2C (Martine) and Guided Program Pathways (Christine) initiatives, but also for their invaluable assistance with relevant aspects of this article. We also thank Khallai Taylor for helping with the initial phases of our Guided Program Pathways work and for offering suggestions for this article.

References

Adelman, Clifford. 2006. The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School through College. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.

Bailey, Thomas, Shanna Smith Jaggars, Davis Jenkins. 2015. “What We Know About Guided Pathways.” New York, NY: Community College Research Center. http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/publications/what-we-know-about-guided-pathways-packet.html.

Freeman, Scott, Sarah L. Eddy, Miles McDonough, Michelle K. Smith, Nnadozie Okoroafor, Hannah Jordt, and Mary Pat Wenderoth. 2014. “Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (23): 8410–8415.


Richard J. Prystowsky, provost and senior vice president of academic and student affairs, Lansing Community College; Andrew K. Koch, executive vice president of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, and project lead, Gateways to Completion; and Christopher A. Baldwin, senior director at Jobs for the Future, and former executive director, Michigan Center for Student Success

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