Nearly half of all U.S. undergraduate students are enrolled in community colleges and half of those students are not reaching their educational goals, according to an overview of Achieving the Dream, a national program that uses data to initiate change, according to the OCCC website at www.occc.edu.
OCCC is included in those numbers, said Stu Harvey, executive director of Planning, which is why the college has joined scores of community colleges around the country to try to improve the outcomes for students.
Harvey said OCCC faculty and staff are doing their best to increase the percentage of successful students with the help of Achieving the Dream.
“Achieving the Dream is working to help more students earn certificates or degrees that open the door to better jobs, further education, and greater opportunity,” he said.
At OCCC, Achieving the Dream focuses on five different areas that may cause students to stumble on their path to an associate degree, said Greg Gardner, associate vice president of Academic Affairs.
The five areas are: gateway course groups, online learning, math, academic advising, and financial aid.
Gateway course groups
These are freshman-level classes that most students have to take, Harvey said. For Achieving the Dream, five classes were selected that had high enrollment as well as high failure rates. Those classes are English Composition I, College Algebra, American Federal Government, American History, and Introduction to Psychology.
To increase success, Harvey said, the college offered training to the faculty to encourage students to work together and help one another.
Cooperative or collaborative instruction is the concept being used, Harvey said.
Instead of lecturing for long periods of time, the professors break the class into groups to do systematic work together in hopes that the students learn from each other. After looking at data, Harvey said, it seems the classes taught by way of collaborative groups had higher success rates.
On Sept. 29 Joyce Morgan-Dees, research support analyst, discussed the fall 2010 cohort profile comparisons, a grouping that allows performance over time to be viewed.
Focusing on the five 1000 level courses, she reported all five selected courses increased considerably in the number of students enrolled in 2010 over 2009, as well as increased in successful completion rates.
This category includes all online classes, Gardner said. Business professor Anita Williams reported on that area.
“We found that online students are not as successful as traditional campus students so we have formed a standing committee called Online Learning Success,” Williams said.
“We look at things we can do to improve the success of online learning.”
The committee has developed an online orientation course that students will be encouraged to take before attempting an online course, she said. The orientation is designed to better acquaint students with the necessary technology skills.
Students often sign up for an online class, then find out they can’t actually manipulate the computer adequately.
Williams said the committee is still in the pilot phase of the orientation course but hopes to see results soon.
More than half of all OCCC students have to take remedial math, Harvey said.
“For years the math department has been looking at different ways for improving the outcomes,” he said.
Looking to change the curriculum, Harvey said, they have gone from three courses to four.
“We are adding a course called College Prep Math instead of calling it Developmental Math,” Harvey said. “We think that gives it a more positive spin. People have all different learning styles. The new curriculum incorporates all learning styles and makes it truly revolutionary.”
Harvey said the main goal is to figure out ways to identify and help students who may be struggling as well as encourage all students to seek academic advisement.
“Students that go in to be advised have a much higher chance of success,” he said.
Student Development Dean Liz Largent reported her staff members are currently working on a program called Retention Alert that will help identify students who may need assistance in getting through difficult times.
For students seeking help with their degree program, academic advisers try to concentrate on the positive when working with students, Largent said said.
The concept is based on the belief that, at some point students have been successful, so the advisers try to focus on what those students have done in the past that made them successful instead of what they may have done wrong.
“We know from statistics that if students get financial aid, they have a much higher rate of persisting and succeeding at the college,” Harvey said.
“We have gone up from 44 percent to 58 percent, which is huge.
“Now a lot of work is going into marketing and promoting financial aid as well as assisting students in applying for it,” he said.
Not only is Achieving the Dream in effect at three different community colleges in Oklahoma, but it also is a nationally recognized program that has established an association of more than 100 organizations in 22 states, according to the website at www.achievingthedream.org.
Besides OCCC, Rose State College and Tulsa Community College also are members of the program
“After four to eight years, a substantially higher percentage of students at Achieving the Dream colleges — especially low-income students and students of color — will experience success, with no reduction in enrollment for these populations,” according to the website.