redesigning community college

Success Stories: Redesigning America’s Community Colleges

By Ellen Ullman

How reforms at Miami Dade College are affecting students and faculty alike.

A decade ago, Miami Dade College (MDC) began trying to increase student success. When the college turned 50 in 2010, it renewed the effort, focusing on some of the ideas in Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success, by Thomas Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars and Davis Jenkins.

“We began by discussing how to reform developmental education, especially math, but looking at that one piece of the puzzle wasn’t enough, so we decided to look at student experience as a whole entity,” says Lenore Rodicio, provost of academic and student affairs at MDC.

At that time, MDC received a Completion by Design grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Some of the funding for the Project for Innovative Strategies to Increase College Graduates was used to analyze data and to reform the entire college’s system.

Rethinking course sequence

In the book, the authors address the importance of faculty engagement, a point of pride for MDC. When the college decided to create more structured pathways (rather than just sequenced courses), faculty members made it happen. Rodicio admits that it took a little longer than it would have if the administration had taken on the task, but, on the plus side, instructors owned the process and were pleased about that.

Along the way, they paid special attention to choice and flexibility, two critical areas that are often highly criticized. The faculty wanted to make sure that, when possible, career-focused pathways left room for some liberal arts options. The result? Even the most structured pathways have some breathing room.

Redesigning the support system

Next, MDC came up with a three-tier advisement model to assist students every step of the way.

The first tier, precollege advisement, has made recruitment more interactive and timely. Instead of just having open houses, recruiters go to high schools and hold workshops, such as “Financial Aid February” or “March Career Madness,” and help students fill out applications. The goal is to better prepare students academically as well as logistically. In the first year of pilot testing, MDC had an 8 percent increase in the number of students coming directly from high school; in the second year, that number rose to 12 percent.

The second tier, traditional college advisement, begins with an online orientation to replace the less-than-successful face-to-face orientation that had been more of an information overload.

Once a student finishes the online portion, he or she attends a mandatory face-to-face orientation to learn about student life and student government and then meets with an assigned adviser to develop a plan. The student must see his or her adviser at least once again before registering for spring courses.

“Our retention rate from fall to fall has always been good, but since we started this process, it increased by a little more than 2 percent,” Rodicio says.

The third tier is academic coaching and mentoring. Once 25 percent of a student’s classes are completed, he or she gets a new adviser, who serves as a career mentor in the student’s chosen academic discipline. Advisers discuss next steps, including transfer to a four-year institution, career options and internships. Although there is no data on the academic coaching yet, Rodicio says faculty and students are finding the conversations beneficial.

“The culmination of these changes is that an MDC student now has a person they can turn to at every step of the way,” Rodicio says. “When you couple that with sequenced, guided academics, it translates to better success.”

Ellen Ullman

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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