A few years ago, with its 50th anniversary approaching, Miami Dade College undertook a comprehensive review of its student services. Shortly after that process began, the college received a Completion by Design grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“While the grant was nice, it was really more of a catalyst than the driving force behind the changes that we were making as an institution,” says Lenore Rodicio, provost for academic and student affairs at Miami Dade.
But as Eduardo J. Padron, the college’s president, explained at the recent AACC Convention, besides improving student success, the changes also resulted in a more efficient allocation of resources.
One notable example is what happened when Miami Dade upgraded its academic advisement model. Administrators created a new three-pronged system consisting of precollege advisement, general on-campus academic advisement and coursework-specific coaching and mentoring. For the precollege component, instead of hiring additional advisers, the college added academic advising to the job description of recruitment staffers.
The college hired 25 new on-campus advisers, so that each could have a smaller caseload. Even so, by repurposing recruiters and making other efficiency improvements, Miami Dade kept the cost of reforming its entire advisement model to under $2 million, Rodicio says. She estimates that hiring someone new to fill each additional role the college wanted to provide would have doubled the institution’s advisement costs.
Reducing costs has led to some promising results. In each of the three years since precollege advisement was implemented, Miami Dade has seen a 10 percent increase in the number of participating high school students who enroll in the college the fall after they graduate.
Besides reassessing the advisement model, other reform measures included making orientation mandatory and stretching the required sessions over the summer in order to relieve some of the stress on staff during peak registration periods.
Rodicio offers this advice for other institutions looking for cost-efficient ways to improve completion:
Engage your frontline staff. Rodicio says Miami Dade’s reform effort succeeded because its goals were clearly communicated to faculty members and staff, who took the lead in designing the new programs and policies.
“The idea for this restructuring and this reclassification of the way we do things didn’t come from the senior leadership,” she says. “It didn’t come from the student services deans or the academic deans or the president. It actually came from the advisers themselves, the directors of advisement and the faculty.”
Carefully plan the rollout. In charting a path from the college’s existing state of affairs to its ideal, Miami Dade administrators had to determine the timing of each step along the way. Some things, such as changing the orientation schedule, could be done immediately for low cost and high impact. Other changes, such as training faculty to be coaches and mentors, required more financial investment and long-term planning.
“You can’t flip a switch and make it work perfectly,” Rodicio says. “You have to have a long-term plan but also look at what are the intermediate steps.”
Expect constant tweaking. Rodicio recalls that the college initially offered no online orientation content, only face-to-face sessions. But feedback from students revealed that they were bored by this approach and felt that the long group sessions left too little time to talk one-on-one with their advisers. That’s when administrators decided to provide some orientation information online that students could access on their own time.
“It’s a work in progress and it always will be,” Rodicio says. “The institution needs to make itself adaptable and agile and responsive to what the students need.”