Rural College Sees Big Gains

By AACC Staff

A college in rural Mississippi made a few changes that boosted the overall completion rate.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from a recent article at Community College Daily.

East Central Community College (ECC) in rural Mississippi logged a whopping 62 percent increase in pre-baccalaureate associate degrees awarded from 2014 to 2015 by making a few high-impact, low-cost changes.

The overall completion rate – including certificates and technical degrees, as well as associate degrees – rose 36 percent between 2014 and 2015. The college also had the largest graduating class, 568 students, this year since the college was founded 87 years ago.

“These results over a one-year period are extremely uncommon,” said ECCC President Billy Stewart.

One change that contributed to the rise in degrees awarded was the decision to waive the college’s $40 graduation fee. Eliminating that fee, which was used to offset the facility rental, cap and gown, and other costs, reduced ECCC’s revenue by about $17,000 to $18,000.

Another change that Stewart said had a big impact on increasing the graduation rate is a requirement that every full-time instructor spend one hour a week in the college’s success center tutoring students and advising them on transfers or other issues.

“That provides an opportunity for students to make another contact with another instructor,” Stewart said. And that might be an instructor they want to take a class with next semester.

The instructors would have used that time for office hours, so there’s no additional cost.

Another tweak: The number of credit hours needed for a two-year associate degree was reduced from 62 to 60, which Stewart said aligns with the 120 hours needed for a baccalaureate.

Defined exit points

ECCC also adopted defined exit points – at 30, 45 and 60 credits in programs leading to an associate degree in applied science so students who drop out at least get a certificate stating they have completed a proscribed course of study with a certain number of credit hours. That will help them advance in their careers until they can come back to ECCC to complete a degree.

In career and technology programs, those credits entitle a student to a career certificate and a nationally recognized credential. For example, a student with 30 hours in automotive tech gets a career certificate and is considered a completer. Those students, however, are not included in the 62 percent graduation rate increase.

ECCC is also working with four-year institutions to identify transfer students who haven’t received associate degrees. This year the college awarded degrees to about 25 to 30 reverse transfers, Stewart said.

In another high-impact change, the college cut back on late registration – from one week after classes begin to two days.

“Late registration has a significant impact on retention and student achievement,” Stewart said.

Only 42 percent of students who registered late in fall 2013 were still in school during the spring semester. After clipping late registration this year, there was a 62 percent retention rate from the fall to the spring semester.

According to Stewart, each day a student misses in the beginning of a semester results in a half-point drop in the letter grade, on average.

“Is it a benefit to students to miss the first three classes? We value students, we value teaching and learning, so we need to implement practices to reflect that,” Stewart said, adding that the college might even reduce late registration to one day or even totally eliminate it.

Rather than telling students who try to register late to “come back in the spring,” he said, ECCC provides other options, such in intensive classes that start later.

Read the full article at Community College Daily.

AACC Staff

contributed to this report.

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