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At Tri-C, Focusing on the Programs That Work

By Sonya Stinson

Ohio’s Cuyahoga Community College takes a team approach to evaluating campus reforms.

There’s no shortage of programs to boost student completion. But not all of these initiatives do what they claim. At Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), in Ohio, a group of administrators and faculty members set out to separate the pretenders from the contenders.

Launched two years ago on each of the system’s 10 campuses, the Campus Success Teams work across the institution to determine whether the latest initiatives have what it takes to help students achieve their goals.

“We have a series of accelerated programs that help bridge students more quickly from developmental education into college-level education,” explains Michael Schoop, president of Tri-C’s Metropolitan Campus in Cleveland.

The college’s latest effort, dubbed the First-Year Experience program, will launch this fall. Schoop says the program aims to enhance student engagement and furnish learners with tools for academic improvement. The effort helps students plan their academic and career milestones early, create a plan for achieving those goals and hone the skills necessary to execute on those objectives.

Looking for a more effective way to evaluate your own student-success initiatives? Schoop offers these takeaways from Tri-C’s collaborative approach:

1. Form a cross-functional team. While the makeup of each Tri-C Campus Success Team varies, all include representatives from the faculty and the administration. A typical roster includes deans of academic and student affairs, associate deans, faculty members from a range of disciplines and dedicated student-success specialists who provide one-on-one guidance for students. Schoop says a cross-functional approach is essential to effective, boots-on-the-ground monitoring of a college’s student-support programs and in determining whether changes or adjustments need to be made to specific initiatives.

2. Coordinate your efforts. Make sure that the goals of your student-success programs are clear to everyone involved, both on campus and off, and invite greater collaboration among staff to ensure those efforts are effective. “That’s the framework in which coordination can be an enormously powerful lever for achieving change,” Schoop says.

3. Agree on a game plan. Schoop uses a basketball analogy to illustrate the importance of what organizational behavior guru Peter Senge calls a “shared mental model.” “If you’re going to be a championship basketball team, and you decide that you want to play zone defense, no matter how good the individuals on your team are, everybody has to understand you’re playing zone defense, and not man-to-man,” Schoop says. “If some people think they’re playing zone, and some people think they’re playing man-to-man, it’s not going to work.” Tri-C’s leaders spend a lot of time developing shared perspectives in identifying what strategies to deploy and how to interpret outcomes. That’s “a really important part of our change, and I believe it’s one of the reasons why we’re beginning to build momentum,” Schoop says.

If students don’t know what they’re trying to achieve, it’s pretty hard for us to be effective.

4. Help students clarify personal goals. Recent studies out of Columbia University’s Community College Research Center indicate that students who clearly define their academic and career goals have a better chance of success — and that kind of planning bodes well for the college. “If students don’t know what they’re trying to achieve, it’s pretty hard for us to be effective,” Schoop says.

5. Refine and build on what you have. Tri-C’s Campus Success Teams bring real value to the table, especially when it comes to evaluating current programs. But as Schoop points out, it’s also about planning for the future. “What has been equally important has been taking what we’ve learned, developing a pilot and continuing to refine it, to build upon it,” he says. Every college should test its student success programs, interpret the results and use those findings to improve what they do for students.

How does your college measure the effectiveness of its student achievement programs? Tell us in the Comments.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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