POV: Time to Hold Students Accountable For Their Own Success
Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech), like many colleges, has become actively engaged in the pursuit of higher degree completion for its students. This national priority is not only important at our college, it is something that we have embraced and enculturated into our daily lives.
As a public community college dedicated to student success, we have zealously looked for ways to revise and update our academic and student support practices, procedures and policies to increase student completion. To this end, we have employed just about every “best practice” that has been written about in the past 15 years. Our college eagerly embraced the elimination of late registration and added required mandatory orientation, required advising for students who scored into two or more developmental courses, and required attendance at classes for financial aid students who are in danger of losing their financial aid eligibility.
To help support students’ learning, we have increased our commitment to skills labs (English, math, science) and increased hours of operation in our academic learning labs. Our library also increased its number of hours to make it easier for students to obtain library services.
We have added a call center to not only provide easier access to student information, but to reduce the number of students who need to come into the Student Services area; thereby allowing more time for students who need to spend extended quality time with an advisor. We have expanded the number of operating hours across the campus to serve students, and taken steps to ensure that we provide a welcoming and hospitable environment in which to engage them. We now also call all new students within the first three weeks of the semester to make sure that they have connected to the right sources of engagement and to answer any question they may have about classes or the college.
In short, I believe we have done many things “to” our students. We have surrounded them with “best practice” solutions to help ensure success and completion. However, after employing these practices, we came to the conclusion that indeed we were doing things “to” a student and not fundamentally changing the students’ behavior. Perhaps, if you looked at your campus, you would find the same thing occurring. You are boxing in your students with best practices, but are you really changing whom the students are or how they react to the requirements of being a successful student?
In the fall 2012, A-B Tech added another component to our “best practices” campus life. We called it “On Course Infusion.” It comes from a Skip Downey textbook that we use in our freshman orientation course. Downey’s book, “On Course,” which is in wide use across the country, seeks to help students to understand what it takes to be a successful student. Concisely, it teaches personal responsibility, personal motivation, self-management and other values that help students succeed. It helps students to becomes creators of their futures as opposed to victims of their past.
We found this text to be so helpful to our students that we have expanded its use out of the classroom and across all facets of campus life. While we still conduct all the best practices we have found, we have added this critical piece to our repertoire. It is holding students accountable for their own learning and their own success. At our college, as I am sure is true at your college, we have a conscientious faculty and staff who earnestly desire to do everything to help make students successful. But, as much as we desire it, we cannot do it for them. Therefore, we are longer receptive to taking such excuses as “I worked late last night and couldn’t do my homework,” “My alarm clock didn’t go off,” I could find a parking spot,” or any of the other myriads of excuses we hear every day about college life. We need to teach students to make it happen.
We now put those excuses back on the students. “What could YOU have done to ensure that you finished your homework, or didn’t oversleep or found a parking spot?” We now move very quickly to a student’s personal responsibility for their actions and find that as we do this as an entire campus (from security guards to advisors to instructors to general staff) that students’ behaviors are changing. They are accepting more responsibility and they are now more quickly looking for ways to intrinsically accomplish their educational goals. They are becoming self-motivated and self-responsible.
While we are still on the journey, our first few months’ results are noteworthy and we find things getting better every day. This is a difficult journey for some of us who have been in the field a long time. We were raised on “access” and many of the policies we put in place were to make it easier for students to access college. Now, we work with the concept of “access with success” and believe that an internal, inherent desire to complete is far better than the boxing in of best practices that we had done to our students.
As we implemented this campus wide infusion of On Course principles, we have made some other changes in how we teach as well. We are now beginning to establish workplace readiness skills in our classes. We are teaching our students the principles of being a good worker and believe that if we expect those skills to be intrinsically manifested in class that one day they will be displayed in the work place; thereby providing value to employers not only in technical skills but great soft skills.
As you look for way to improve completion, I urge you not to just look for mechanical processes to box in students, but for ways that change them as people.