Retention Work Groups and Analysis of At-Risk Populations
Retention Services regularly organizes work groups to review the academic outcomes of at-risk student populations and the support services available to them. Work groups typically have 8-10 members, including department chairpersons, heads of student services offices, faculty members, academic advisors, and staff members from academic support and student services offices. Once the review is complete, the work group develops recommendations for services that may be improved or new initiatives to better support the success of the particular population. The vice president for academic affairs has approved the recommendations of the following retention work groups:
A retention work group is currently studying the academic success of and support services available to students who are veterans of the armed forces.
In 2007, President Andrew J. Matonak asked Kathleen E. Quirk, associate dean of instructional support services and retention, to form a task force to review the college’s placement and remediation policies. The task force, similar in composition to a retention work group, included 24 representatives from the campus community.
In 2008, Carolyn Curtis, vice president for academic affairs charged Associate Dean Quirk with organizing and leading a program review of the College Forum course. College Forum is the college’s one-credit, first-year experience course. The class was introduced in Fall 1995 and previously reviewed in 2002. The nineteen members of the review team included administrators, College Forum instructors and other faculty, academic advisors and staff members from student services and academic support offices.
Retention Services also reviews the academic outcomes of smaller at-risk populations with the assistance of individual offices.
Undecided Students Work Groups
The Undecided Students Work Group, which completed its report in July 2004, recommended:
- Update the college admissions application to include an opportunity for students to select “undecided” when identifying a major.
- Have Individual Studies advisors check Banner for the “UND” attribute before advising appointments and when students identify themselves as undecided.
- Use a revised “career ticket” by Admissions staff and academic departments to refer undecided students to the Center for Careers and Transfer.
- Send a letter from CCE/CCT to new students prior to the start of the summer with information on upcoming campus events related to career exploration and employment.
- Make available the list of undecided INS students to offices sponsoring events related to career exploration.
- Create sessions for undecided students and their parents presented by CCE/CCT at Family Day.
- Call undecided students on the Monday before Family Day to promote the special sessions.
- Have CCE/CCT lead presentations at Open House for undecided students and their parents.
- Create a “Career Referral Form” for INS advisors to track the use of campus resources by and “career decidedness” of undecided students.
- Pilot two sections of College Forum for undecided INS students.
In January 2008, individuals from the offices represented in the original Undecided Students Work Group met to review implementation of the recommendations. The new group identified the following areas and methods for enhancement:
- Admissions will place the UND attribute in Banner (SEADETL form) where academic advisors can update it.
- The Registrar’s Office will provide input on promoting career services to undecided students during the registration process after looking at the Undecided brochure and career ticket.
- Explore methods for promoting career services through the Communications Gap Committee communications plan to accepted students.
- Explore creating a workshop for Orientation.
- Review options in lieu of special College Forum sections in light of approval of the new one-credit course on career goal-setting.
- Identify methods for tracking UND student use of career services.
- Discuss who will assess support services provided to and academic outcomes of UND INS students.
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Weak-in-Three Work Group
The Weak-in-Three Work Group submitted its final report in May 2008. The group recommended:
- The college should recognize the efforts it is already making on behalf of weak-in-three students. These students have been identified as needing improvement in the reading, writing and math skills necessary for college coursework. Yet we are able to retain almost two-thirds of these students from fall-to-spring and almost half of them from fall-to-fall. This achievement is not far off our track record for all students. Credit needs to be given to the registration and advisement system, academic support services, the departments and remedial courses.
- The college should continue to recommend multiple remedial courses for ISP students. These courses seem to “buy” students time during their first semester(s) to develop some of the skills they need to continue their academic pursuits and they do so in the absence of a strong departmental identity or a cohort of students with whom they identify.
- Other departments should investigate reproducing the ISP advisor’s intervention practices to improve second semester retention.
- The college should address the weak-in-three students enrolled in Engineering and Industrial Technology curriculums (e.g. ABR, CAP, CON, ECM, ELT, HRS, AMT, NIT). These students have much lower retention rates than weak-in-three students in other majors, and advisors evidently do not believe that they will benefit from the more liberal arts-based remedial courses currently offered.
- Advisors should be regularly provided with data regarding the efficacy of the remedial courses for their weak-in-three students.
- Remedial course instructors may benefit from establishing a standing group to regularly discuss curriculum development, best-practice instruction for high-risk students, and the application of developmental education theory to teaching underprepared students. The instructors hired to teach the courses would benefit from membership in educational associations for developmental education and attendance at local and state networking conferences.
- Instructors of remedial courses and basic credit courses should collaborate with campus support service personnel to embed supplemental support within the courses.
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Distance Learning Work Group
The Distance Learning Work Group, which completed its report in March 2009, recommended:
- Review communications to students who register for online classes – particularly the timing and means of communication – and emphasize language regarding the differences in the methods of instruction between online and in-person classes.
- Develop a method for intervening with first-term students after they register for an online class to reinforce advisement regarding the difficulty of transitioning to college and online learning simultaneously.
- Consider including online learning in College Forum by gradually introducing required online assignments that develop the learning skills students need to master to successfully complete an online course.
- Provide information to advisors regarding the performance of de-matriculated students with mixed schedules in online classes to assist them in advising students on course selection.
- Initiate discussion among faculty members and other interested constituencies regarding instructors voluntarily opening their online courses before the term begins to allow students to explore the course before work in the course is required.
- Create an email message to students in online classes to be delivered the week before the part of term begins to encourage them to access the class as soon as it is available.
- Explore additional ways for faculty who teach online to promote student engagement, particularly through the layout and look of the course in Blackboard.
- Consider revisions to the Call Center script and an additional communication to students who are called to further emphasize the need for early and frequent participation in online classes.
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GED Recipients Work Group
Retention Services formed a work group in 2009 to review the success of students who matriculate at Hudson Valley with the GED credential and the support services used by this population. The group submitted its final report and the following recommendations in September 2009.
- Assign someone to become a campus-wide, part-time counselor for students with GED diplomas to organize support meetings to discuss difficulties, obstacles and resources, arrange motivational speakers from the campus community, raise awareness of issues facing students with GEDs, choose topics and build support and community.
- Create a three-day transition-to-college program similar to Jump Start at Columbia-Greene Community College for new, incoming students with GEDs.
- Seek funding for scholarships to support new students with GEDs to enable them to reduce the hours needed to work for family support or to purchase textbooks.
- Initiate outreach to adult education centers with GED preparation programs and local high schools that have students in a GED track, including involvement by college faculty representing different disciplines who can discuss popular classes and career ideas related to their disciplines. Invite students to sit in on a college class.
- Integrate a credit-bearing course (e.g., INDS 100, INDS 101 or INDS 105) into Hudson Valley’s GED preparation classes to encourage confidence, self esteem and future college enrollment.
- Investigate modeling LaGuardia Community College’s bridge programs. See http://ace.laguardia.edu/gedbridge/.
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Findings and Recommendations of Task Force on Placement Policies and Remediation
After reading and considering theory and research regarding the placement of students in non-credit courses, the following thoughts, facts, and issues are raised by the Task Force members:
- Studies about course placement and remediation don’t mention the method used to place students in the courses.
- Some schools that report having mandatory placement policies apply the policy for math only; others mandate placement for writing only; many allow advisors to override the policies in place when they meet with the students. There is no single definition for the term, “mandatory placement.”
- Multiple assessment measures are utilized to make most placement decisions—not just placement test scores.
- Non-credit courses are only one option along a continuum of services that address the needs of under prepared students.
- Non-credit instruction integrated with the regular program seems to work best.
- There is little learning theory to support mandatory course placement.
- There are too many variables to say that mandatory placement in non-credit courses is the key to academic success.
- The non-credit course success rate, nationally and at Hudson Valley, is too low to be the only solution for skills-weak students.
- There may be a conflict with mandatory placement (as we have considered it) and Hudson Valley Community College’s mission of accessibility.
After looking at the data related to non-credit course completion and subsequent success in credit courses, the following thoughts, facts, and issues are raised by the Task Force members:
- Are the test scores valid?
- The data may not tell the whole story because of the small numbers of students in some courses.
- Evidently, skills aren’t the determining factor in students’ success; there are many other variables.
- Taking a non-credit skills course with a credit course might have promise.
While acknowledging that many questions remain, Task Force members feel that they have had adequate time to study the issue of “mandated placement,” defined by the group as requiring each tested student to take a non-credit course in each skill (reading, writing, and math) determined to be weak through the placement testing process.
- Does the Task Force recommend that the college modify its current placement policy to require students to enroll in the recommended non-credit course for each module of the placement test in which they test weak?
No; however, advisors should emphasize the Task Force’s findings that supplemental academic support is essential for students who test weak.
- Does the Task Force recommend any immediate changes to the current placement testing practices?
- Since some students say that they didn’t realize the test was important, emphasize, during the Admissions process, in the testing letter, on the phone, and within introductory remarks at the test site, that the test is important and will determine course placement as well as financial aid eligibility.
- Since some students report that they have difficulty with the online calculator, offer each student the use of a hand-held, ACT-approved calculator.
- Since some students say that they didn’t understand about cut-offs or could have done better with practice, send information about cut-offs and a link to online practice tests to students with their testing letter.
- Develop review sessions or short modules for students who want to brush up on Math skills before taking the placement test.
- Does the Task Force recommend immediate changes to the current placement testing policies?
- Since the current placement policy for students who test weak in all three basic skill areas (reading, writing, and math) is irregularly enforced, call upon all departments to abide by the policy, requiring students who test “weak-in-three” to “register for at least one (1) appropriate learning skills course during their first term of full-time study or earlier.”
- Does the Task Force recommend research, investigation, or consideration of changes to current testing practices or policies, advisement practices or policies, or developmental course practices or policies?
- Explore the feasibility of a writing sample for course placement, perhaps for students who test in the “decision-zone.”
- Explore the idea of giving students the choice of testing online or with pencil and paper.
- Consider options for students to address skill deficiencies:
- Explore the idea of offering first-semester courses with additional contact hours.
- Explore the idea of cohort/paired courses.
- Explore the idea of establishing learning communities through course scheduling.
- Explore the idea of second-semester skills courses for students in academic difficulty.
- Explore the idea of basic skills Sprint courses for students who are not successful in the first weeks of school.
- Explore the idea of special sections of College Forum for under-prepared students.
- Explore the idea of creating a pre-printed advisor prescription pad or some other means of displaying the various options for students to address skill deficiencies.
- Explore the idea of mandating the option selected with and for each student identified as skills-weak.
- Explore the idea of beginning early interventions at Week 1 of the semester.
- Explore the idea of providing advisor training on working with skills-weak students.
- Explore the idea of developing an ideal math course for Liberal Arts majors and students who don’t need the full dose of algebra.
- Does the Task Force recommend research, investigation, or consideration of other measures of college readiness?
- Explore additional instruments that would give information about students’ motivation and possible barriers to academic success—even a “readiness to attend” score.
- Explore the idea of enhancing the Early Warning System to identify and track students with multiple risk attributes.
- Explore the idea of conducting research to determine whether improvement of reading skills needs to be an institutional priority.
- Does the Task Force have suggestions for additional discussions or workshops related to the topic of student success?
- Explore the idea of scheduling a forum for faculty discussion and input regarding the reasons students fail (since skills are only a small part of the problem).
- Explore the idea of scheduling a faculty development day introducing best practices for teaching and supporting skills-weak students.
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Retention of Students Enrolled in Programs of Study Leading to Careers Non-Traditional for the Student’s Gender (May 2008)
Overall, Students seeking a non-traditional career through an academic program at Hudson Valley do not appear to be at risk for retention. Given continuing institutional efforts to attract more women to technology programs, this population should be monitored. The SARZRCHT Banner program can be modified to break out gender data for the reported cohorts. Since SARZRCHT reports retention by program, this would provide a simple means of reviewing retention trends of students who are pursuing non-traditional careers. If retention becomes a concern for this population, Retention Services can create a work group to study methods of providing institutional support for these students’ success.
Academic Outcomes of EOC Students Enrolled at the College (December 2008)
The Educational Opportunity Center students who enroll at Hudson Valley Community College evidence one clear characteristic that would make them at-risk for attrition: they generally have poor placement test scores. Nonetheless, they have satisfactory grade outcomes, generally use academic support resources to address weaknesses, and have very good retention and graduation rates. It is possible that the individual attention provided in EOC programs provides them with independent learning skills and a sense of educational accomplishment that other skills-weak students generally lack. As a group they appear to be able to establish academic goals, and many succeed in achieving them.
Hudson Valley has many non-traditional and skills weak students, and the college has academic support and career preparation programs to assist them in realizing their educational goals. Yet few EOC students enroll at Hudson Valley. While registering more students at the college after they have completed EOC programs would have a relatively small effect on overall enrollment at the college, promoting further education at the college among EOC students supports Hudson Valley’s mission statement.
Recommendations indicated by this analysis are:
- Develop further strategies to increase EOC student enrollment at Hudson Valley.
- Explore methods of identifying EOC students during the enrollment/registration process, in addition to the process established by Admissions, to assist future reviews.
- Provide advisors with information regarding the strengths of EOC students to inform and frame discussions with EOC students who are having academic difficulties.
- Encourage all EOC students at the college to use existing support programs such as Smart Start, CASP and the Learning Centers, where they will receive the same kind of individualized attention they received at the EOC.
- Review data for this population again in three to four years, particularly if there is an increase in enrollment.
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College Forum Program Review
The following recommendations from the Program Review Committee warrant consideration and should be reviewed by all campus constituencies concerned with first-year student success.
- Departments and divisions that offer College Forum should meet to discuss how to meet the institutional requirement for first-time, full-time students to take College Forum, even if they enroll at the last minute.
- Departments and divisions that offer College Forum should meet to examine and discuss the 20% difference in course pass rates between fall and spring semesters.
- An academic task force should be assembled to discuss the course, in general. Who should take it? Should some students be exempt? Should students be allowed to withdraw from the course? Have students with “W” and “Z” grades satisfied the course requirement policy? Does repeating the course during the second or third semester of college have any benefit?
- The administration should consider whether this institutional course is best assessed institutionally, by individual departments or divisions, or through a coordinated effort.
- The assessment process should include student feedback about course content and instructional methods.
- The Registrar should report on the capacity of Banner to enforce the current course requirement policy.
- Each department should formally introduce College Forum instructors to the Academic Success portal organization.
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