Magazine article University Business

Put a Ring on It: Engaging Students to Set the Foundation for Success

Magazine article University Business

Put a Ring on It: Engaging Students to Set the Foundation for Success

Article excerpt

ENGAGED STUDENTS ARE successful students. That is a well known fact on college campuses. The trick is encouraging that engagement, particularly for community college leaders. "About 80 percent of our students are low income," says Stephen Head, president of Lone Star College-North Harris (Texas). "Many of them are also the first in their family to attend college."

Another common issue is lack of commitment on the part of the students. "Our classes are cheap, so it's not a big financial hit to drop one and take it again," says William Rainey, professor of visual communications at Austin Community College's South Austin Campus (Texas).

Engaging students and creating a sense of connection to campus is a group effort that requires a multipronged approach. Here are several areas to consider.

FACULTY CONNECTIONS

The main group of people students interact with on campus is faculty, and this first line of connection can't be overlooked. Campus leaders realized years ago that students don't want to walk all over campus to file paperwork, which led to one-stop shops for student services.

The next level is not making students walk at all. "We're encouraged by colleges finding ways to bring those services into the classroom," says Angela Oriano-Darnall, associate director of the College Relations Center for Community College Student Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin. "With part-time commuters, the best way to engage students is in the class."

As more traditional-age students start at community colleges, faculty members are requiring students to come see them after the first assessment, something older students did on their own, she says.

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"As we're seeing the literature about what it takes to keep these students engaged, [faculty are] doing more academic counseling," says Amy Baldwin, an instructor of English and student success at Pulaski Technical College (Ark.) and co-founder of the National Institute for Student Success. 'Tm doing much more of that over my career. We're taking much more of a 'whole student' approach." Overall today, there is greater understanding about what role college services play in helping students succeed, she says.

Faculty are using technology to expand office hours. "It is so much easier for them," says Rainey. "They can contact me when they are home, or in between classes in a computer lab." Through the Adobe Connect system he uses for distance education, he can make himself available into the evening for students who work 9 to 5. "It makes me work harder during my office hours," he quips, although he draws the line at weekend hours. If it wasn't for the hurdle of funding, he thinks online tutors would be a great idea.

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Faculty members at North Harris are encouraged to make themselves available in the Teaching and Learning Center to provide extra academic assistance, but are not required to be advisors, says Head. "I want them to focus on what goes on in the classroom and spending time with students if they need to. I know some colleges require faculty to be advisors, but I don't want them to do it if they don't want to." Making themselves available through consistent office hours is also satisfactory for Head. "I know our faculty work hard. I don't want our faculty doing administrative work, that is why we have the advisors."

The support of the administration along with on- and off-campus professional development opportunities goes a long way, says Baldwin. "Also having more information shared with us about success rates is important." The focus on data encouraged by Achieving the Dream, the national nonprofit that helps community college students, helps colleges and professors target their efforts where professional development is concerned, she adds.

"Regrettably, when times get tough, too many colleges will turn to professional development as an area they can cut, and it's not," cautions Oriano-Darnall. …

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