iStream Sneak Peek
Synchronized Learning: Choreographing the Ideal Pathway
The Completion by Design initiative calls for systemic changes in policies, programs, and practices that strengthen pathways to completion for students. Led by managing partner Sinclair Community College and joined by Lorain County Community College and Stark State College, the Ohio cadre is undertaking holistic and transformational redesign efforts to significantly increase completion rates. The cadre had a long history of excellent programs that served groups of students, but identified the need for systemic reform that would link together instruction and student services to ensure a seamless pathway. Using the metaphor of synchronized swimming, the cadre leadership sought to choreograph every aspect of the student’s journey from the moment they decided to “jump into the pool” to the time that they emerged at graduation.
Together, the Ohio cadre enrolls nearly 54,000 each year, or 26 percent of the entire community college enrollment in Ohio. Like many community colleges across the nation, the Ohio cadre faces many similar challenges that impact completion. On average, 64 percent of students from the three institutions receive Pell funding and 88 percent are referred to developmental education. In addition, 50 percent of Sinclair’s students are classified as first generation college attendees and 64 percent are considered low-income.
The Ohio cadre is currently developing new tools, policies, and processes to promote student progression into and through programs of study*. The colleges plan to redesign each institution through four overarching strategies: redesigning academic programs of study, accelerating students through the pathway, integrating student services throughout the pathway, and implementing policies to increase persistence and completion. Faculty members are redesigning curriculum and classroom experiences to ensure that students are ready for a career with a livable wage and/or transfer to a four-year institution with minimal loss of credit. The result of this collaborative work will be better defined on-ramps to streamlined programs of study that allow students to finish more quickly in significantly higher numbers at a sustainable cost to our institutions.
First, faculty members are revising academic programs of study to create clearer sequences and increase opportunities for contextualized learning. Faculty members began by reviewing the top five enrolled programs to add structure, reduce excess credits, and align course sequences with employers and transfer institution needs. Teams of faculty and advisors worked to create ideal pathways for students that included a term-by-term list of all requirements for a student’s degree. Rather than listing a requirement such as “humanities elective,” the faculty chose a default elective that was appropriate for their discipline. For example, faculty in the medical records area selected “humanities and technology” as the preferred humanities elective, because their industry was converting to electronic medical records and the faculty wanted students to study the intersection of the humanities and technology. From there, advisors created individual student academic plans, which were adapted to students’ developmental education needs, personal schedules and the number of credits they were able to take. Students also receive program-specific support and career-oriented opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, through increased experiential learning and employer connections, such as internships, co-ops, service learning, and job shadowing.
Second, the cadre plans to help students become college ready more quickly. To reduce the need for developmental education, the colleges will continue to collaborate with local high schools so that juniors take college placement tests and, if needed, receive developmental education at the high school during the senior year. Additionally, all three colleges plan to expand their suite of accelerated and contextualized developmental education classes. Sinclair has been offering one-week boot camps, which provide a review of developmental math, English, and reading. At the end of the week, the students take the same final exam as that taken by full-term students. Eighty-five percent of the boot camp students have eliminated at least one developmental education class by taking and passing a boot camps. For students who prefer a longer, self-paced math class, Sinclair offers the Math Academy courses, which allow students to progress through modules by skipping material they have already mastered and focusing only on the areas that need development. Finally, the college is offering an accelerated English course for students who test just below college level English. These students are placed directly into college-level English with a co-requisite developmental writing course. Students in this program are passing the college-level English class at comparable rates to those who tested college level.
Third, the cadre will integrate student services throughout the pathway. Colleges will train and support faculty to better advise and/or mentor students, and to work more closely with staff to intervene proactively when needed. All students will participate in regular support services, beginning with a mandatory orientation session and continuing with regular academic and career advising. Advisers will check in with students regularly and utilize improved technology to help students stay on track and move efficiently toward a credential. Sinclair has divided the college into career communities (meta majors), allowing students the opportunity to identify with peers in their field and to receive support from a team of professional advisors and faculty who are specialists in their area.
Finally, the cadre will also work with other stakeholders on several institutional and state policy changes, including monetary and non-monetary incentives for students as they meet certain performance benchmarks. Other policies aim to increase credential attainment among students close to completion, such as automatic graduation and “reverse transfer,” which would be facilitated by the Ohio Board of Regents. The cadre is also investigating statewide policies that would incentivize earning a credential before transferring.
According to Sinclair’s President and CEO, Steven Lee Johnson,
Our year of planning with Completion by Design has allowed us to identify a number of areas of improvement for student completion. Through a full review of institutional policies and practices, we hope to remove barriers to student access, progression, and completion. Our cadre is well on its way in implementing key elements of our plan, and we are optimistic and encouraged about the possibilities of creating clearer pathways for our students.
Davis Jenkins, Senior Research Associate at the Community College Research Center, commented on the Ohio cadre’s progress, stating, “I'm blown away by how much you and your colleagues have accomplished in such a short time. I am confident that your hard work will bear fruit in terms of improved student outcomes.”
Kathleen Cleary, Associate Provost and Completion by Design Director at Sinclair, said that while there may have been bumps along the road, “We are poised for substantive and sustainable change at the end of the grant period.”
For more information about the Ohio cadre’s efforts, contact Kathleen Cleary, Associate Provost and Director, Completion by Design, Sinclair Community College.
* A significant portion of this article comes from the Completion by Design website and is used with permission. For additional information, see Designing for Completion: The practice and progress of the Completion by Design initiative.
Enjoy a Complimentary Two-Week iStream Trial
Explore iStream…the League's web-based, multimedia portal where faculty, staff, administration, and students find quick solutions for research and reference needs using the latest web 2.0 technology. An iStream subscription provides everyone at your campus access to videos, articles, publications, and learning programs, along with the best of the League's conferences, services, partnerships, and collaborative communities.