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Building the Road to Success for Students at Prince George’s Community College
Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) has a long tradition of offering students robust support services and programs to assist them on their journey towards graduation, including multiple mentoring programs, tutoring services, collegian centers, and student clubs. However, recent data from the 2010 Community College Survey of Student Engagement yielded two critical discoveries: (1) while these programs and services greatly assist the students who use them, many of them are being underutilized, and (2) students are often confused and frustrated by what they perceive to be a complex and bewildering web of pathways and services. Students are not sure what programs/services to make use of and when in their academic journey to use them. McClenney and Arnsparger (2012) provide evidence that this is a national problem; indeed, community college students nationwide often find themselves lost and confused on the path to graduation.
As part of Envision Success, the college’s completion agenda, the PGCC Roadmap Team found that the college had to take steps to clarify the road to graduation for students by assisting them in making sound choices and approaching their academic journey in a strategic manner. To achieve this goal, the team began work on three projects in 2010: creating a literal map for students that outlines the pathway to graduation, assisting in the dissemination of newly created course sequences, and creating icons to represent the college’s general education outcomes, which we call Student Core Competencies.
The PGCC Roadmap team began the process of clarifying the road to graduation by holding lengthy team discussions about the range of services currently being offered at the college. The team went on to determine a list of services it considered essential to students at various stages of their journey toward graduation. We then began work on creating a literal map for students that would identify a directed pathway toward graduation and the “stops” they needed to make along the way (fig. 1). The map includes stops at critical junctures on the road to completion: entry, fifteen credits completed, thirty credits completed, forty-five credits completed, and graduation. At each stop, the map directs students to engage in specific tasks, use specific services, or join a particular program. For example, at “entry,” the map directs students to attend orientation and see an advisor.
Figure 1. The Prince George’s Community College Roadmap for Student Success
In an effort to ensure that students are fully informed about the support services and programs recommended at each stop, the back of the map provides a brief description of each stop, including contact information for the appropriate services and programs. The description of each stop contains a corresponding quick response code, which a student can scan with a mobile device to visit the appropriate website for that stop.
The Roadmap team also recognized that students who must enroll in developmental courses face a particularly difficult road to graduation. Thus, an additional path was added for these students. This path directs student to visit the Marlboro Learning Lab, which provides them with extra assistance in developmental reading, writing, and mathematics as well as workshops on study habits and other topics beneficial to these students. Also, the path directs students to meet with an advisor every semester regardless of the number of hours they have completed.
While creating the map, the Roadmap team realized that many of the available services and programs identified for each stop would be more effective if they were mandatory for students. While students are strongly recommended to participate in the services, activities, and programs listed at the stops, student orientation is the only program that is currently required. The Roadmap Team is now working on a plan to measure which of the services and programs students are using and their impact on student success. If data reveal that a particular service or program contributes significantly to student success, the team will work to build support for it to be made mandatory.
While the Roadmap team was creating the map to graduation, the college was engaged in a massive overhaul of its assessment process, which involved a comprehensive curriculum mapping process. As part of this process, faculty created a four-semester sequence of recommended courses for each of the college’s programs and certificates. These sequences greatly assisted the departments in aligning their course and program outcomes and in reexamining course prerequisites.
The Roadmap team quickly recognized that these sequences would also be an invaluable tool for students. Before the creation of the sequences, students were provided with a traditional list of course requirements for each program and certificate. While the lists provided all of the necessary program and certificate requirements, many students found them to be overwhelming and not particularly helpful for planning; they neither provided recommendations about the order in which courses should be taken, nor about the general education courses that would best complement a particular course of study.
The Roadmap team’s initial recommendation was to use these sequences as course planning sheets during advising sessions and to distribute them widely to students. However, in the past year, the use and visibility of the sequences have been greatly expanded. Instead of using the sequences just as paper planning sheets, they are currently being programmed into the college’s online registration system to direct students to specific courses during the registration process. Also, they will be included in the college’s new “student friendly” catalog, which will be produced in fall 2013. Ultimately, PGCC students will no longer see a long list of course requirements when considering a program of study; instead, they will be provided with a concrete two-year plan for completing the program that reflects the clearest path to completion.
Finally, the Roadmap team received data from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement that suggested that PGCC students did not recognize nor understand the benefit of the college’s core competencies: the set of general education outcomes that are infused into courses across all programs to prepare students for further study and the workforce. To address this problem, the Roadmap team developed icons that will be used to brand each of the six competency areas—communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical reasoning, information literacy, culture, and ethics.
In branding the college’s learning outcomes, the team hopes to help students understand that the different courses they take and the services of which they avail themselves all contribute to the creation of a set of primary knowledge, skills, and values.
The icons will be used in multiple ways. To begin to familiarize the students with the icons, an explanation of each icon will be included in the fall 2013 catalog, and the icons will be displayed on posters throughout campus that highlight the core competencies the college is working to instill in each student. In addition, the icons will be used across campus to identify the specific competency area in which learning is occurring. For example, they may be used in marketing materials for extracurricular activities and workshops that foster specific competencies and skills, as well as in the signs that identify tutoring service locations and learning areas. Finally, beginning in fall 2013, each student who completes a targeted part of the Owl Success Track program will receive a T-shirt featuring the icon that corresponds to his or her main area of strength, as identified by the test.
The overall goal of the branding campaign is to help students better understand why multiple courses and programs are all requiring students to read, write, think critically, and engage in discussions about ethics.
One of the most valuable by-products of working on these three endeavors has been the creation of strengthened connections and better communication between various areas on campus. In recent years, PGCC, like many other schools, has begun a concerted effort to battle the “silo effect” that is so prevalent in higher education. The Roadmap team, which is made up of personnel from academic affairs, administrative services, and student services, has contributed greatly to breaking down existing silos. Each member of the team brings different insights, knowledge, and expertise to the project, enabling the team more effectively to identify duplicative services, to create projects that reflect the strengths and interests of the various areas on campus, and to understand the ways in which each area contributes to the common goal of student success.
In the end, the goal of the Roadmap project at PGCC is to reconstruct the roadway to completion so that students can take the fast lane to graduation. Through this work, the team has not only helped to clarify the path to success for students, it has increased the college community’s understanding of the important contributions being made to learning across campus.
McClenney, K. M., and A. Arsnparger. 2012. Austin, TX: Center for Community College Student Engagement.
W. Allen Richman is the director of outcomes assessment and institutional effectiveness, Office of Planning, Assessment, and Institutional Research; Angela D. Anderson is the dean of health sciences; Iris Antoons is an associate professor of teacher education; Bridget Brennan is a professor of English, Andristine Robinson is director of institutional initiatives; Crystal Smith is the manager of the student success program; Mirian Torain is associate professor and chair of developmental English and reading--all of Prince George’s Community College.