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By Paul Bradley  /  
2010 November 15 - 12:00 am

2010 CCSSE Report Stresses Importance of Quality Teaching

Here is a pop quiz for community college educators.

1. What percentage of community college students says they often or very often include perspectives from different races, genders and political beliefs in class discussions or assignments?

2. What percentage says that they often or very often have examined the strengths and weaknesses or their own views on a topic or an issue?

3. How many believe they often or very have learned something in class that has changed their viewpoint about an issue or concept?

The answers: 1. 57 percent; 2. 43 percent; 3. 45 percent.

RELATED TABLE

Student and Faculty Demographics

Those are among the findings of a report released by the Center for Community College Student Engagement, part of the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas at Austin.

Entitled “The Heart of Student Success: Teaching, Learning and College Completion,” the report highlights key findings from the 2010 cohort of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), the 2010 Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (CCFSSE) and the Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE).

The report adds a new dimension to the completion agenda that so dominates debate around community colleges today, suggesting that helping more students earn a college credential will have lasting value only if that credential reflects real and lasting learning.

Improving the response rates to the questions listed above, the report suggests, could lead to more meaningful classroom learning and less rote memorization.

“While summits are clearly important, policy papers are critical, and changes in institutional culture are fundamental, graduation rates simply will not increase unless we attend with equal urgency to what goes on between teachers and their students,” said Kay McClenney, CCSSE director.

The report also documents wide gaps between the perceptions of faculty and the students they teach, gaps that must be closed if the classroom experience is to result in deep and meaningful learning.

In the foreword of the report, John E. Roueche, the longtime director of the CCLP, said colleges should invest more in the professional development of faculty so that instructors can better connect with today’s students and their distinctive learning styles.

“Amidst the renewed calls for national leadership and for policy change at state and federal levels, it is critical to remember that the goal of ensuring that more of our students attain high-quality certificates and degrees can ultimately be achieved only by strengthening the purposeful interactions that occur between students and faculty, between students and student services professionals, and among the students themselves, Roueche wrote.

“Further, improved community college outcomes will not be achieved without the heart-and-soul commitment of college faculty and staff. Most of our faculty have been well prepared in the disciplines they teach, but too few have been prepared for the reality of today’s students — the ways they learn, and the cognitive and affective challenges they bring with them through the open door.

“We must focus on hiring and developing faculty members who enjoy working with students even more than they enjoy their discipline, who are convinced that students are capable of learning, and who have the skills to engage students actively in the learning process. In so doing, we will increase the odds that our faculty and staff are well prepared to ‘make magic’ in community college classrooms.”

Said McClenney: “It’s really a straightforward proposition. We have to invest in faculty work to invent or learn about effective educational practices, deploy them in classrooms of all kinds — whether virtual or face-to-face — and then bring them to scale.”

The report comes at a time when community colleges are in the spotlight as never before. The institutions were lavishly praised at a White House summit last month and have been repeatedly called the linchpin of America’s economic recovery.

But the colleges are also struggling to make the transition from their historic open-access mission to fulfilling a larger equity agenda by ensuring that more of their students graduate.

The report repeated some of the depressing statistics that have come to define community colleges today. Just 28 percent of first-time, full-time, associate degree-seeking community college
students graduate with a certificate or an associate degree within three years;
fewer than half of students who enter community college with the goal of
earning a degree or certificate have met their goal six years later; slightly more than half of first-time, full-time college students in public community colleges return for their second year.

To turn those numbers around, the report says that colleges need to resist the temptation to push students through the pipeline.

“College completion alone won’t address all of these challenges,” the report states. “In fact, it is easy to imagine
scenarios in which more degrees are awarded but less learning occurs. That
outcome must be rejected as unacceptable. The push for more degrees will produce the desired results for individuals and the society only if college completion reflects the learning required for family-supporting jobs, effective citizenship, and further studies.”

The report recommends four strategies to promote learning and college
completion: strengthening classroom engagement; integrating student support into learning experiences; expanding
professional development focused on engaging students and creating policy
conditions to promote learning and
completion.

“It is time for community colleges to start imagining what is possible,” the report concludes. “It is time to challenge the notion that some students will not
succeed. It is time to raise not just our
students’ aspirations but to raise our own.

“Perhaps most of all, it is time to assert that access to college is just not enough. Student success matters. College completion matters. And teaching and learning — the heart of student success — matter.”

The full report is available at www.ccsse.org.

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