class size

Small Class Size Can Boost Success

By Ellen Ullman

Fort Scott Community College, in Kansas, improves student experience and retention with a low student-teacher ratio and innovative programming.

Fort Scott Community College (FSCC), in Kansas, was recently ranked the best community college of 2015 by SmartAsset, a personal finance advice platform. In 2014, FSCC ranked ninth in the nation. The study was based on high graduation/transfer rate and low student-faculty ratio. What makes this college so remarkable? Affordable tuition, personalized attention and the Attendance Matters and Early Alert programs.

FSCC’s 2015–2016 in-state tuition for one credit hour is $97. According to Jason Hogue, public relations director at FSCC, a semester costs about $900 less than the national average.

Remarkably, the college’s graduation/transfer rate is 87 percent, which is double the average of the colleges in the SmartAsset roundup. College administrators believe the high rate is a reflection of small class size and caring faculty members.

Prioritizing a low student-teacher ratio

With a student-teacher ratio of 12:1 — one of the lowest in the country — it’s common for FSCC faculty to get to know their students. “I often hear an instructor go up to a student and say something like, ‘Why didn’t I see you in class on Tuesday?’ ” Hogue says. “We don’t have teaching assistants or people working toward a degree. We have professional educators with great intentions.”

One of the college’s overarching commitments is to keep that ratio low, even if it means cutting back in other areas. As a result, the college does not have a recreation center.

“We realize that when you spend money, you’re also thinking about what you are not spending money on,” Hogue says.

The Attendance Matters and the Early Alert programs

FSCC started the Attendance Matters and the Early Alert programs to aid course completion, student retention and overall graduation rates. Under the programs, faculty track attendance and generate “early alerts” for absent or struggling students.

The Attendance Matters message and program highlights just how critical class attendance is for student success. Students who do not attend class are most at risk for academic crisis and failure.

Instructors are encouraged to send in an early alert if students miss more than a week of classes, have a grade of C or lower (or a quickly declining grade) or are experiencing a life crisis. Instructors can send early alerts as needed.

Following an early alert, the college’s student success coordinator contacts students by text message, email or phone. At that time, students are encouraged to make direct contact with the advising department.

“We’ve found texting to be a fantastic way to speak with students about problem areas,” Hogue says. “It works much better than calling or emailing.”

For the spring 2015 semester, FSCC sent 3,246 texts to students in response to early alerts and attendance reports. In just that semester, there were 2,334 early alerts issued by instructors. Because of these alerts, FSCC students say things in interviews like “the college is a warm place where you know people care” or “FSCC makes me feel like I have a family.”

“We’re honored being named No. 1,” Hogue says. “Community colleges deserve to be ranked on their purpose — student affordability and results.”

Ellen Ullman

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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