Community College Case Studies: 3 Lessons on Improving Learning
In addition, participating colleges agree to monitor their progress and report their findings to Achieving the Dream so that other colleges can benefit from their knowledge and experience. This year, the organization learned three important lessons on improving learning from two of the participating community colleges in their pool.
Valencia Community College in Florida offered a number of programs for under-prepared students coming to the campus for the first time – more than 100 programs, in fact. However, the piecemeal approach to improving student performance was still resulting in a broad achievement gap, particularly along with ethnic and racial groups. When Valencia joined Achieving the Dream in 2005, the college began to take a closer look at the strategies that would yield the best results, according to a report published by the organization. The outcome was implemented in four phases, beginning in the 2005-06 school year and included:
- Supplemental Learning – This was offered for both pre-college mathematics courses and three other classes the college deemed particularly difficult for incoming freshmen.
- Learning in Community – This program coordinated instruction in two difficult courses for students who linked the classes together.
- Linked Course Expansion – This strategy brought more courses into the model listed above.
- Student Life Skills Course – This course was mandated for students who tested into developmental courses in math, English, and writing.
Patrick Henry Community College is a smaller institution located in the rural reaches of central Virginia. This school has a high percentage of minority students, with as many as 80% requiring some type of developmental course to succeed in college. Patrick Henry decided to focus on providing support to first-year students to ensure their introduction to the college experience was as smooth as possible. The cooperative learning program that resulted focuses on positive interdependence and individual accountability, and it includes the following strategies:
- Base groups to provide ongoing peer support
- Informal ad hoc groups that come together for a single session
- Formal cooperative learning groups that focus on a single project or presentation
Another strategy implemented by Patrick Henry was data-based decision making that used information from other sources, like student surveys and placement tests, to dig deeper into patterns of student success. The model used demographic, social, psychological and academic factors to predict the likelihood of completion success. By accurately identifying characteristics of students likely to drop out of school, they were better equipped to provide necessary interventions that would result in higher retention and greater student achievement.
When students are successful in their post-secondary education efforts, they are more likely to go on to professional jobs that benefit the entire country -- in addition to providing the individual students with the opportunity to realize their dreams.