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CLC touts $2.37M initiative to boost student success

A multi-faceted, $2.37 million student success initiative is in place at the College of Lake County to counter the community college’s sub-par “success rate,” school officials said.

A recent report by the nonpartisan, nonprofit College Measures Inc. pegged CLC’s success rate at 41.6 percent, based on a combination of the percentage of students who graduate within 150 percent of the “normal” two-year timeframe plus the percentage of students advancing to a four-year school after two years.

The rate puts CLC in the bottom 30 percent of the state’s two-year public colleges.

CLC administrators say the measure is but a slice of the true overall college picture. Nonetheless, school leaders have developed a six-pronged plan to improve its rating, including:

• Hiring three coaches and a manager who will work directly, early and often with academically challenged students;

• An expanded college readiness and dual credit initiative in conjunction with Lake County high schools;

• Expanded tutoring services offered through the math and writing centers, plus additional dedicated tutors and peer mentors in developmental math classes;

• Enhanced use of the college’s impressive data warehouse system to track course completion, grades, retention, GPA and more;

• Creation of an online new-student orientation, and;

• Consolidation of the career and academic advisement division within the counseling, advising and transfer center.

Changes will be paid for, in part, through a new $3 student fee, of which $2.50 is allocated toward the student success plan. That is expected to generate $650,000 to go toward student success, said Evelyn Schiele, executive director of public relations and marketing at the college.

Coupled with reallocated funding from leaving some vacant positions unfilled, plus an $874,459 rollover from this year’s student success budget, the total for 2015 is $2.37 million of the district’s roughly $101 million budget.

“We don’t really have a major quibble with the data in the (College Measures) report,” Schiele said. “We know we have work to do.”

The public should know, though, that many factors affect student success, Schiele added. Among them is the number of students who work 30 hours or more a week while taking classes, which appears to be higher at CLC than at peer institutions, data show.

Additionally, CLC receives a greater-than-average number of students who are not “math ready” for college-level work.

Both of these factors could lengthen the period of time necessary for students to complete degree requirements, or lead a student to quit in frustration.

“Regardless of the ‘whys,’ the college is committed to doing better, and it is investing $2.37 million in Fiscal Year 2015 to improve student success,” Schiele said.

College President Jerry Weber said the population of students included in College Measures Inc.’s data, which was taken from 2009 to 2012, comprised only first-time, full-time students — about 1,500 to 1,800 of the school’s 17,000 students.

“It’s a good measure. It’s a good way to take a slice,” he said. “But it doesn’t give the total breadth of what the college is doing. I think (the success of) our nursing students, for example, would offer a different perspective.

“If you take a look at how do your students do in a licensure exam, I think our students do pretty well on that,” he said.

Ali O’Brien, assistant vice president of educational affairs; Karen Hlavin, associate vice president for student development; and Sean Hogan, executive director of institutional effectiveness, planning and research; are key players in ensuring CLC’s student success plan is, itself, a success.

O’Brien said she expects that about 1,000 students will meet with the college’s new coaches in the coming school year.

“We want to make sure that we connect with (academically challenged students),” she said. “Every student in developmental education will be assigned a coach.”

Hlavin said a key goal is to increase the number of entering students taking advantage of the new-student orientation, or at least completing an online orientation. Anyone who’s been out of high school just two years or less is required to attend. But older students, too, can gain much from orientation.

“The retention rate is higher for those who attend,” Hlavin said.

Citing a study conducted in fall 2013 which compared those who attended orientation with those who did not, Schiele said there is a 10 percent difference in the retention from fall to spring.

She added that all community colleges combine a mix of students who are there for job training along with those working to gain credit hours for transfer to a four-year university.

Twenty-year-old Cooper Steffen of Winthrop Harbor said he began attending CLC right out of high school and will enter Illinois State University as a junior this fall. The recently declared business major said CLC has done a good job of preparing him for what’s next.

By their nature, though, community colleges also attract a certain number of students who, due to work, family or other personal considerations, will take longer than is considered traditional to achieve educational goals.

Kim Blake of Antioch is 27, and in the second year of what she expects will be a four-year journey to a two-year degree — an associate of applied science in medical imaging.

Her non-traditional path is no fault of the college, she said.

“They have been helping me get to where I am,” said Blake, who has alternated between full- and part-time attendance for medical reasons and required developmental course work to bring her to college readiness when she returned to school. “They can only do so much.”

While all successes are to be commended and no time ever is a bad time to achieve an educational milestone, Schiele said the onus to push for speedier completion would benefit both the college’s data-fueled reputation and the students themselves.

The longer it takes to attain a diploma or certificate, after all, the later in life the student begins reaping its career-enhancing rewards.

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