Empower faculty to improve student success

By Ellie Ashford

Practicing “courage over comfort” has led to streamlined processes to improve access and success at a Florida college.

Faculty must play a key role in keeping students on a pathway to college completion, according to findings from a student engagement survey conducted at St. Petersburg College (SPC) in Florida.

One of the findings from the survey is that when students are struggling academically, they want to talk to faculty, not an advisor or administrator, said SPC President Tonjua Williams, who shared some of the survey results and subsequent actions during this week’s Fall Meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges held in Arlington, Virginia.

“The faculty is the most important, pivotal group on campus to get students to come back semester after semester,” Williams told members of AACC’s Commission on Student Success.

Access to data

As a result of the findings, SPC switched responsibility for its early alert system from student services to faculty, who now use the Desire2Learn system to provide information directly to students, including grades and attendance reports. Advisors can access the system, too, and can add notes about what they’re doing to support the student.

Letting students know their grades in a timely manner can have a big impact on retention, Williams said. In the past, some students would drop out of a class because they erroneously thought they were failing. In other instances, students didn’t get a course syllabus until the second week of classes. Now, faculty are required to post a syllabus online before the course starts.

When Williams talked about these issues with faculty, she found they thought they had better communications with students than they actually did.

“Giving faculty access to data empowers them,” Williams said. “Let faculty take the lead on coming up with solutions.”

Smoother onboarding

When a consultant told Williams 10 years ago that the college’s onboarding process was “horrible,” she didn’t believe it. But when she tried to apply to SPC herself, “It took me two days to get through the process, and I never heard whether I got in or not,” she said.

That exercise, repeated by other college administrators, led to a streamlined application process that now takes just 10 minutes.

Surveys of students also found that most of them didn’t know what they wanted to study in college, Williams said, and when students don’t see a clear path ahead, they’re less likely to complete.

To address that issue, SPC added case managers and required them to receive training as professional career service advisors. Also, newly enrolled students had to complete a self-assessment that steers them toward a pathway that best suits them.

Now when students are accepted into the college, they get a congratulatory letter and a link to the self-assessment. And when they see their advisor for the first time, the advisor already knows what they are interested in and helps them get onto a pathway.

“We have to realize there is nothing wrong with our students,” Williams said. “It is us. We have to do something different. We need to change our behavior.”

Faculty are hired to teach, but colleges need to make sure they are responsible for student learning.

“We have to practice courage over comfort,” Williams added.

There’s more to the story! Read the full article in CC Daily.

Ellie Ashford

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.