My 11-year-old twins are studying paradigm shifts in their seventh-grade class. Their teacher defined a paradigm shift as a “fundamental change in an individual’s or a society’s view of how things work in the world.” As I helped my kids with their homework, I saw significant parallels with the California Community Colleges and our implementation of the Student Success and Support Program (SSSP).
The first event in a paradigm shift, says the seventh-grade teacher, is an epiphany. As of 2014, as a part of the SSSP program in California, community colleges must by law show that all students are provided orientation and educational planning through counseling services, early assessment and matriculation and retention support. When the new law came about, the first thing we did at the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District is run around trying to figure out how to update all of our systems and processes to align with the “new” accountability standards. That’s when, in my new role as vice chancellor of institutional effectiveness and student success, I had an epiphany of my own: we already had a majority of these systems for student success in place, but hardly anybody was taking advantage of them because they hadn’t been properly institutionalized.
Take skills training. Recently I evaluated one of our programs called the Carr program, which focuses on special tutoring and mentorship for student athletes in basic skills courses. Compared with 50 percent success rates among regular basic skills students, Carr students were achieving success rates of 80 percent or higher. What we need is a way to take the successes of this small-scale program and replicate it across all of our programs. This takes planning, it takes communication and, most important, it takes institutional commitment.
Plug the holes
The next aspect of the seventh-grade paradigm shift is to recognize your vulnerability. In our district, vulnerability existed in the implementation of electronic educational planning tools.
The software was in place, ready to use, but when it came time to upgrade it, it became clear that a majority of our colleges had failed to make the transition from written to electronic educational planning, despite access to these resources. To improve integration of these tools across our colleges, we held training sessions for counselors and spent time showing administrators and others how to use and access the system. It was during one such training session that a student worker asked me a question that enlightened my entire perspective. “Dr. Hawley,” the student said, “Why didn’t we have this [technology] before? The students would love it.”
Here’s the thing: We did have the technology before — it just never made it effectively out of the planning and implementation phase to institutionalization.
Your reputation depends on it
This brings me to the last piece of the seventh-grade model — legacy. What do you want to be known for? We do so many things well at community colleges. The California Community Colleges didn’t need the SSSP to tell it what to do to help students succeed.
Most of us were already engaged in this work. I believe we needed the SSSP to activate a paradigm shift. It’s not that we needed to necessarily change what we were doing; we simply needed to be willing to renew and reinvigorate these promising practices to best support our students.
We needed to institutionalize promising practices to ensure we were fulfilling our mission across all of our colleges — to become the destination where 21st-century students turn for skills training, college transfer; career upskilling, or professional credentialing — to achieve their educational and life goals, whatever they may be.