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Using Personal Stories to Tout Student Success

By Sonya Stinson

Mini student profiles help one Kansas community college recruit and motivate students.

Success metrics are essential to increasing accountability at the nation’s community colleges. But, as administrators at Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Overland Park, Kan., have learned, sometimes the best evidence in support of the college comes from students themselves.

As part of its 2014 Photo Stories program, JCCC features mini profiles of students on its website. The college’s marketing team says the vignettes, which feature a photo of the student coupled with a personal story about their experience at the college, help the college recruit students and demonstrates to stakeholders JCCC’s commitment to academic success.

“We’ve had people who have chosen their major because of a story they saw,” says Jessica Haas, JCCC’s associate director of marketing communications. “We’ve had students get jobs because the employer saw a story about them.”

We’ve had students get jobs because the employer saw a story about them.

While data-based decision-making is an important part of gauging student and institutional progress, few things are more inspiring to students than personal stories to which they can relate.

One such story features a former JCCC student who struggled with basic math before deciding to become a math major with a goal of one day teaching at the University of Kansas. Another story features a graduate of JCCC’s culinary and hospitality management program nominated for a prestigious James Beard award.

In both cases, the students discuss their time at JCCC and how their experience at the college contributed to their success.

In one instance, Haas says an automotive technology student featured on the site received a phone call from a potential employer about a job for which he hadn’t yet applied. “When [the student] went to the interview, a copy of the story was on the table,” Haas says.

JCCC launched Photo Stories back in 2009. Local media in the area was struggling and the college needed a way to share its successes with community.

“It was close to the time we lost the county newspaper,” Haas recalls. “The city newspaper was facing what all newspapers are facing: reduced staff, reduced size. We needed to tell our story, so we had to rely on ourselves.”

The Photo Stories series also includes news about individual faculty honors and accomplishments and special programs on campus and around the community as well as news about facilities upgrades. Students can even sign up to take a tour of the campus.

Some Photos Stories also run in JCCC’s print publications, but Haas says the stories receive more views online.

What makes the stories so compelling? The message is simple: “This person succeeded, and you can, too,” Haas says.

What does your college do to showcase its successes? Tell us in the Comments.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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