Increasing the number of community college students who graduate with a degree or certificate is on the mind of every community college president — and President Obama. According to the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, more than 3 million livable-wage jobs are unfilled in the United States because students are not getting the education and credentials necessary to fill these jobs.
Awareness is the first step to solving any problem. With that in mind, Phi Theta Kappa is promoting weeklong, completion-focused campus events through its Community College Completion Corps (C4) program. Community colleges across the country are making these events happen.
For example, in mid-November, 13 community colleges in Mississippi participated in College Challenge Week, which included events to increase student awareness of the benefits of earning a degree or credential. Mississippi community college presidents unanimously voted this past spring to make College Challenge Week a statewide initiative.
While the events are meant to be fun and festive, the goal is to get students to evaluate their education plan and sign commitments to complete their degrees.
We found out how College Challenge Week went at Mississippi’s Meridian Community College (MCC) and how the college will use the information gathered to encourage completion.
What did MCC’s College Challenge Week entail?
The week had a graduation carnival atmosphere, including relay races and a birthday cake in honor of Phi Theta Kappa’s Founder’s Day, which is Nov. 19. There was also a photo booth with graduation props.
The carnival also featured practical booths, such as a degree evaluation table to help students develop a graduation plan. Another important area was the commit- to-complete table, where students signed an online pledge to get their degree.
How was the event marketed?
The week prior to the events, MCC sent representatives to be interviewed on various local radio and news stations, including WEXR Eagle Radio and the college’s MCC Today show. “We shared statistics and information about the week,” says Phyllis Holladay, math instructor and Phi Theta Kappa adviser at MCC.
What part of the event helped students the most?
While students were drawn to the carnival in the middle of campus, it was the statistics that made them sign the commit-to-complete pledge.
“Those earning an associate degree will earn up to $500,000 more over their lifetime than those without a postsecondary credential or degree,” Holladay says. “And, those earning a degree or certificate are more likely to be hired and less likely to become unemployed than those without.”
Students stopped by the table, heard the statistics, evaluated their degree plans and then pledged to complete their degrees.
How will the completion pledges be used?
“The online pledge serves as accountability to the students,” Holladay says. “We can use the contact information gathered to send encouraging emails to the students, reminding them of their commitments.”
While MCC doesn’t yet know how many students signed the completion pledge, C4 has data from other campuses. At Hinds Community College in Jackson, Miss., 368 students committed to graduate by signing the pledge.
How could MCC’s College Challenge Week improve in the future?
Given a choice of dates in the future, Holladay says she would prefer to avoid registration week. “The scheduling conflict made it difficult for advisers to commit as much time as we would have liked to assist students in evaluating their degree plans,” she explains.
Has your campus held C4 events? Tell us about them in the Comments.