Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Assessing Student Learning in Community College Honors Programs Using the CCCSE Course Feedback Form

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Assessing Student Learning in Community College Honors Programs Using the CCCSE Course Feedback Form

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Academically talented students with impressive placement scores are enrolling at community colleges in increasing numbers. The economy has certainly played a role in this migration to two-year institutions, where students can commute from home and pay lower tuition rates, but other factors have also contributed to the change. Community colleges have expanded their mission to meet the academic needs of this population (Marklei; Boulard), and articulation agreements between community colleges and universities have improved over the years (Kane).

More two-year institutions are offering honors programs for the academically gifted students who will eventually transfer to four-year universities (Beck). The benefits to community colleges of developing and sustaining honors programs are many; according to Bulakowski and Townsend, they include: (a) greater learning potential for strong academic students; (b) higher retention of well-prepared students; (c) higher transfer rates for honors students; (d) enhancement of the institution's public image; and (e) increased respect from four-year institutions (Beck; Bulakowski and Townsend; Boulard).

However, not all community college administrators and faculty approve of honors programs in the community college setting. Opponents claim honors programs are elitist, diverting resources and the best professors to the academically gifted students. They argue that community colleges--known for open and equal-access education--should be identifying methods and resources to help all students learn better, not just a few (Boulard; Evelyn; Outcalt; Selingo). While these arguments may always exist, as budgetary pressures become increasingly difficult, these voices become louder and often more persuasive.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE HONORS PROGRAMS AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Enrollments have increased at community colleges during the economic downturn. Unfortunately, this increase has occurred at the same time that states such as Florida, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and many others have reduced their financial support for higher education; even though their enrollments are up, community colleges have been forced to cut expenses and eliminate programs (Bushong). Now more than ever it is important to have valid and concrete methods of assessment for honors programs (Lanier).

In Assessing and Evaluating Honors Programs and Honors Colleges: A Practical Handbook, Otero and Spurrier state, "Evaluation and assessment provide an opportunity for Honors Programs and Honors Colleges to demonstrate their strengths, address their weaknesses, generate institutional support, and gain outside validation of their accomplishments and goals" (p. 5). They suggest a two-phase evaluation process: a self-study and then an external study by a team of NCHC-recommended Site Visitors. In the self-study report, Otero and Spurrier recommend that the honors program or honors college develop goals and objectives, gather evidence of accomplishing those objectives, and identify strategies for improvement. For many programs, the gathering of evidence is a precarious part of the self-study. Whipple encouraged well-conducted self-assessment of programs but cautioned, "Assessment, poorly planned and executed, wastes time and money, and may misinform, leading to faulty conclusions" (p.41).

The Art and Phyllis Grindle Honors Institute at Seminole Community College (SCC) in Florida has more than doubled in size over the last four years. The program has enhanced its curriculum, expanded to two campuses, hosted the Florida Collegiate Honors Council Conference, and had four consecutive Jack Kent Cooke Scholars and one All-USA Community College Academic Team Member. Despite its impressive record, the SCC Honors Program is scrambling, along with every other worthy program, to develop measurable student-learning outcomes, gather evidence, and assess student learning for accreditation self-study requirements and for its administration. …

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