While many in higher education are working diligently to improve student outcomes, we hear committed faculty, staff and administrators say they are often doing so in relative isolation from each other, making learning what works take longer when students need solutions and support now, not later.
Creating a Community that is Learning Together
One of the driving forces in founding Civitas Learning was to create a community that is learning together, so that as we work to help a million more students a year learn well and finish strong by 2025 our partner institutions can learn from each other’s victories and challenges. This helps institutions avoid ‘re-inventing the wheel’ across their individual campuses at the expense of extra resources and time. While every college and university, and their data, is unique, we can certainly learn collectively and get to better and faster results.
So, when DeDe Griffith from Lee College expressed a desire to meet with other regional community colleges across Texas doing similar work, her Partner Success Consultant, Lauren Hammonds, took the idea, rallied a team and brought it to the table. The result was a room full of faculty, staff, advisors, directors, administrators and more from across the state coming to fulfill the promise of learning together.
The highly-interactive, one-day Texas Community College Boot Camp was the first regional meeting of its kind, with Dallas County Community College District, Austin Community College, South Texas College, Lee College, Del Mar College, El Paso Community College and the Lone Star College System present. Their combined work serves more than 275,000 students yearly; many of them underserved populations, minorities or working adults.
The creative agenda was designed to help them create a culture of problem solving for the day that they can replicate — one they can take back to their campuses — along with the names and contact information of new colleagues for support, brainstorming and friendship from across the state.
Building Networks & Knowledge
Working to ensure participants got to know more about each other and their campuses, exercises included some lively improv followed by a poster session where each campus got to share something from their unique data, talk about winning initiatives, and point to current strategic goals tied to the first-year experience.
Participants moved from one institution to the next and learned about several innovative programs across the state including:
Required college success courses for first-semester freshman,
Development education innovations that are working to move students into for-credit courses with the skills to succeed,
Dual credit programs creating pathways for first-generation college students,
‘Intrusive’ advising where students must speak with an advisor in their first semester before registering for a second semester.
A program that gained a lot of interest was Lee College’s work with a Weekend College program, funded in part by a First in the World Grant, to help fill a middle skills job gap with higher than average wages in the community they serve.
Exploring the First Year Experience
With the focus of the workshop on the first-year experience, participants did group brainstorming working to identifying key challenges first-year students face. They moved into a benchmarking session where they looked at persistence data from community colleges across the nation. They were then shown persistence rates for community colleges across the Civitas. They were asked to guess persistence for their first year students, then, along with a Civitas Learning staff member, began a hands-on session with Illume®, diving into their unique data to learn more about the various student segments in their first-year cohort.
Forming Problem Statements & Seeking Opportunities to Act
The data revealed much and led to many introspections and group conversations. Each group formulated problem statements, then worked in the Illume dashboard to find opportunities for impact, creating action plans around the areas of greatest opportunity for change.
The process walked them step-by-step through picking a student segment, understanding its challenges, defining a problem statement, using the insights to identify opportunities to improve success, seek the best opportunities for the greatest impact through comparisons, use the Student Lists feature to identify the students in that cohort, and plan outreach. Each participant left with plans they can replicate at their campus, and an increased familiarity in how to use the platform and apps to drive positive, scalable change and make confident decisions.
A Creative Culture of Problem Solving
“It was so exciting to see the energy in the room,” said Hammonds. “The feedback from our partners pointed to four major take-aways they valued most from the day: 1) getting time with others doing this work statewide, 2) getting time in their data with their own team of colleagues who often can’t spend an entire day in professional development together, 3) being part of a creative culture of problem solving, and 4) defining and mastering a process they can take back to their campuses and use today and tomorrow.”
“This workshop was the physical manifestation of the Civitas (Latin for community) we envisioned when Civitas Learning was founded… A community with a common purpose,” said VP for Partner Success and Consulting, Dr. Nicole Melander. “The participating colleges all come into this work with us at different stages of implementation, with different cultures and different students — but they share the same passion, and the same willingness to do things differently to help students succeed.”