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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

The STAR: 
Strategic, Technology-Assisted, Rapid Associate in Arts Degree Program

Coastline Community College
Coast Community College District, CA


This day does not mark the end of my journey. Instead this is a day of celebration, honoring the men and women who helped me to achieve my dream of earning a college degree and winning scholarships. This day is in recognition of the outstanding human beings who made the STAR Program one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life, and who paved the road for others to follow. I feel as if I accomplished the impossible.

We will always be the Only, the Invincible
First STARs, Class of 2002

Since 1980, the fastest growing group of students in higher education has been adults over the age of 35. Rapid changes to a knowledge- and technology-driven workplace continue to fuel the demand for well-educated workers. Increased demand for higher education coupled with limited fiscal resources requires alternative solutions and approaches to the delivery of effective and economic instruction. The STAR A.A. degree program at Coastline Community College (CCC) addresses the needs of students and of higher education by providing a competency-based, interdisciplinary, accelerated degree program. 

The program allows adults to complete an associate in arts degree in just over a year (about 14 months). The STAR (Strategic Technology-Assisted Rapid) A.A. Program features competency-based interdisciplinary instruction with an emphasis on instructional strategies designed to assist students in becoming Expert Learners. These Expert Learners not only achieve content mastery but also develop a repertoire of strategies they can apply to academic and workforce situations. 

STAR Project Goals

The legacy of Coastline Community College in its community college mission has traditionally been dual enrollment or individual course progress for those completing their associate or baccalaureate educational at other institutions. Nestled among Southern California's beach resorts and coastal community, the economic environment of its service area influences more of the workforce development and adult enrichment missions of comprehensive community colleges. However, as more and more adult students engage in complete midlife career changes vs. vertical skill upgrades, they require more long-term credentialing rather than short-term technical training. From this, STAR Program Staff recognized the demand for an accelerated A.A. program as a flexible and innovative option. 

Once the need was established, the goals of the STAR Program evolved towards the design, development, and evaluation of an accelerated associate in arts degree as a national community college model. The STAR Program start-up objectives were organized around three primary outcomes: A.A. curriculum development, faculty training, and student progress. 

Star A.A. Curriculum Development

The design of the competency-based, interdisciplinary A.A. degree is organized around three sub-objectives: interdisciplinary curriculum design, incorporation of an expert learner component, and identification of core competencies. The outcome measure of success is a full curriculum and degree program that can be completed in fourteen months and that meets all requirements of student transfer to any university within the California State or University of California system. 

STAR Interdisciplinary Design.  The STAR program was developed as a hybrid model, combining classroom instruction and Web-based instruction (WBI) for each STAR course. Classes meet 1.5 to 2.0 hours per week and many of the STAR course requirements, including class discussions, group work, projects, research searches, are conducted via the World Wide Web, email, and listserv connections. 

The STAR curriculum consists of six course clusters. Each cluster is eight weeks long and includes 3-5 courses (10.0-12.0 units), allowing completion of approximately 20 units per semester. Because courses are grouped into clusters according to content compatibility, students have numerous opportunities to make interdisciplinary connections. Each discipline is enriched by pointing out its interdependency and relationship to the other disciplines in its cluster. This aspect also helps accelerate the learning process. Imagine the efficiency of writing one research paper that fulfills the requirements of three different courses, with English, history, and political science professors each grading different aspects of the same paper. 

STAR Expert Learner Component. STAR students learn proven methods to increase efficiency, comprehension, learning, and retention as they develop into Expert Learners. By STAR definitions, Expert Learners are self-regulated, lifelong learners who display thoughtfulness, control, and reflection. Not only do STAR students learn strategies, they also learn to use them effectively. Before entering the STAR A.A. Program, students are required to take a short Orientation to Expert Learning course (EDUC 120). Learning activities are evaluated as formative processes in determining the continuation, modification, or termination of strategies that engage students in self-directed meaningful learning approaches. 

STAR Core Competencies. The STAR A.A. degree is based on the completion of 64 to 67.5 units or credits within six clusters of courses comprising the STAR Core Competencies. The six clusters and combined courses were selected by STAR faculty as core competencies that work together as interdisciplinary groupings (e.g., history with political science, biology with health education, humanities with art history), with details noted in the table below. The process development phases of STAR Core Competencies included reviewing course outlines, discussing possible competencies with other department faculty, and finalizing a list of integrated course objectives. 

CLUSTER COURSE NUMBER & NAME TOTAL UNIT
Humanities Cluster EDUC 121: Expert Learning 1 COMP170: Using the Internet
ART 101: History/Appreciation  Art HUMAN 110: Humanities Through the Arts
ENG 100: Freshman Composition 1 (1st half)
11.0  
History & 
Government Cluster 
EDUC 122: Expert Learning 2 
COMP 173: Internet Research
POL SCI 100: American Govt.
HIST 175: U.S. History Since 1876 ENG 100: Freshman Composition @ (2nd half) 11.0
11.0  
Geology Cluster GEOL 140: Intro
GEOL 141: Lab
ENG 102: Critical Reasoning 
(1st half)
Foreign Language or Elective
Math Class (1st half)

11.0 to 13.0 

Psychology Cluster PSYCH 100: Intro
ENG 102: Critical Reasoning 
(2nd half)
Foreign Language or Elective
Math Class (2nd half) 

10.0 to 11.5  

Biology & Health Cluster BIOL 100: Intro to Biology
Health ED 100: Health
Elective

9.0  

Social Science /Intercultural Cluster ANTHRO 100: Cultural Anthropology
SOC 100: Intro to Sociology
SPEECH 103: Intro to Intercultural Communications
Area 3/ARTS & Humanities

12.0  

  Total Transferable Units

64.0 to 67.5  

STAR Faculty 

It's very stimulating to collaborate with faculty from other disciplines. Discussing how my course relates to theirs gives me new insight into what will help students learn. The expert learning component [of the STAR Program] is especially useful. I have already taken ideas from our meeting and applied them in classes I am teaching this semester.
--STAR Humanities Instructor

To measure STAR success is to include the great accomplishments of STAR faculty. As an initial process, STAR faculty candidates were asked to complete narrative applications requiring information and insight beyond credentials. STAR faculty applicants responded to questions related to experience teaching with Web resources and interest in teaching in accelerated programs. Although STAR program staff understood that a hybrid, accelerated program model was not attractive to all instructors, they found excited and energetic faculty members who embraced a team approach to learning and student development. Project meetings began well in advance of student enrollment, and faculty were included in multiple phases of STAR process developments-from the creation of program policy to the review, revision, and selection of courses and curriculum. 

The creation of the STAR faculty team process included support for the enrichment of course objectives, agreement on learning criteria, and formative evaluation on project and student development. Evidence of the significant coordination, connection, and communication required of STAR faculty is demonstrated in the competency-measure of STAR students submitting one research paper to be evaluated and graded by three STAR faculty members on mastery of three interdisciplinary subjects. 

As part of the hybrid model, STAR instructors also receive specific training regarding Web-based instruction (WBI). The STAR A.A. incorporates multiple components of distance learning and STAR faculty explore best practices for facilitating online discussions and for instructional strategies appropriate to WBI. Faculty also develop the learning components of their course Web sites and receive training in designing and maintaining Web pages. STAR Program Staff have developed templates as models for STAR course websites; however, faculty create assignments, brief lectures, study guides, and all original course content. 

One of the primary resources developed for STAR faculty is the STAR Instructors' Learning Community Web Site. This Web site serves as the home base for faculty training and includes readings and resources related to core competencies, disciplinary thinking, interdisciplinary studies, critical thinking, expert learning and self-regulated learning, and use of graphic organizers. Within each topic area, readings and relevant questions are posed for faculty members; questions are specific to the course each faculty member will teach in the STAR Program. The readings reflect research in expert learning principles, online teaching references, and STAR Program components. STAR faculty members participate in online discussions related to their own disciplines and the courses within their clusters. 


STAR Student Progress

The performance of the first STAR cohort (beginning Fall 2000) and the feedback from the first graduating class exceeded the STAR Program Staff's expectations. The first STAR semester began with twenty-nine students; twenty-six of these students successfully completed the first two STAR course clusters, registering a retention rate of 90 percent! During that first semester, STAR students completed between 10 and 22 credits, averaging 18 units or credits. The STAR student grades were equally impressive. Of these twenty-six, 9 STAR students ended the semester with a 4.0 GPA, fourteen STAR students completed with a 3.5 GPA or higher; while the remaining 12 STAR students maintained a 3.0 or higher GPA at semester completion. These outcomes identify that 81% of the STAR cohort completed their first semester with a 3.0 or higher GPA. 

Receiving special recognition, thirty-three of Coastline Community College's 423 full-time students made the President's List for outstanding academic achievement. Of those receiving this honor in the college, 24 percent were STAR students. 

Formative evaluation is a key foundation of STAR's developmental success. The adjustments and realignment necessary to build a learner-centered project requires continuous input, feedback, and analysis. STAR students are asked to rate course elements, online materials, and instructional delivery at the close of each semester. In addition, students are asked to evaluate STAR components and fundamental principles. STAR student comments reflect the impact of learning through multiple modalities and appreciation for the innovative design the STAR program. 

Student Comments

  • About the interdisciplinary aspect of STAR

*"I retained the information better because I was able to see how it was applied in more than one class."
*"Better understanding of material; encouraged in-depth study; I now love the library and see more interdisciplinary subjects outside of class."

  • About the expert learning aspect of STAR

*"Made me study more and responsible for my own learning."
*"It helped me become more alert and aware of what to focus on and what was important."
*"These aspects are going to get me through all this!"

  • About the accelerated aspect of STAR

*"I believe it is possible to learn at this pace if you are motivated to. The expert learning techniques helped me a lot. I think I have completed this cluster with good grades and a decent amount of knowledge of all courses involved."
*"It actually doesn't allow time to slow down, so the interest has to stay up."

  • About the STAR Program in general:

*"I have been very happy with the STAR Program thus far!"
*"I enjoy the quick pace and how most of the assignments are over the Internet."

Lessons Learned

As with most innovation and transformation there is often reservation, resistance, or both. The STAR Program, as an accelerated, hybrid model of competency-based learning, pushes traditional educational standards of time, lecture, and classroom protocol. Aware of risk and the need to focus on results, STAR Program Directors offer several suggestions for the development of accelerated degree programs in other community colleges:

  • Be prepared for internal publicity to require multiple presentations; once is never enough. Visit every key college committee.

  • Be prepared for some colleagues to resistant. Although you may predict they would simply elect not to participate, some may actively try to prevent the project from being implemented.

  • Be flexible, particularly with choice of courses; things may need repeated tweaking. For example, to accommodate our first STAR cohort group, we needed to include Intermediate Algebra since most didn't pass the Math Placement Test at a level allowing them to take college math. Since then, we've taken math out of STAR, leaving a space for students to take the math class that best fits their needs (e.g., business majors need a different math course than education majors)

  • Be aware of your students' majors and what pre-major courses they may need to take before they can transfer; build in spaces for them to accomplish this.

  • Establish connections with various transfer institutions within your educational service area.

Summary & New Developments

The STAR Program, as a creative A.A. degree option, has had a significant impact on faculty and student participants. The demand for this type of accelerated program is firmly established, as is the population of motivated, eager, goal-oriented adult learners. In addition to generating community interest, presentations, promotion, and the transfer of students have led several local four-year institutions to begin recommending and counseling their potential students to consider the Coastline Community College STAR Program, with a plan to return to the transfer institution for their upper division course needs. As the STAR Program experience deepens, training continues, and more faculty members become involved, program directors feel that a ripple effect of learning and exploration is growing beyond project parameters and positively influencing the college, university, and community as a whole. 

Stacey Hunter Schwartz
Dean of Instruction for Special Programs 

Jan Heck
Director, STAR A.A. Program 

Michelle Wild
Director, STAR A.A. Program

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