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2017 August 13 - 12:32 am

Aiming High

American Honors Relies On Advisers To Help Students Succeed

To hear the students enrolled in the American Honors program tell it, there is one overarching reason for its early success in helping promising community college students reach lofty academic goals, including transferring to elite four-year universities.

It’s the aggressive, intrusive advising process, giving students ready access to dedicated, skilled academic advisers ready to point the way to success.

Here’s a small sampling of how the students value the academic advising process and the advisers themselves.

“There is so much more to it than classes,” said Hannah Baptist in a video posted on the American honors website (www.americanhonors.org). “One of the things that I love the most about American Honors is that I'm very close to my adviser. I know that she will give me sound advice. Everyone loves the American honors community.”

Said fellow AH student Alexis Butler:

“The American Honors advisers are such a special part of the program. They make the program.”

And there is this, from an unidentified student, quoted in a study of the AH program conducted by the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University: “The Honors adviser told me the right pathway. My [non- AH] ex-housemate doesn’t have any idea about transfer credits; he took three years to graduate. That was awful. But I’ve got an adviser.”

One of the study’s authors, Shanna Smith Jaggers, said AH students enjoy a great advantage over fellow community colleges not enrolled in AH: the program’s academic advisers typically have a caseload of about 100 students. They can pay personal attention to each student. That’s impossible at most community colleges where advisers typically have a caseload of 1,000 students or more.

“They just have too much to do,” Jaggers said. “The American Honors advisers have 100 students. They can really handhold students and walk them through the whole transfer process. With today’s funding models, you just can’t do that at regular community colleges. It’s impossible” Established 2013, American Honors is a partnership between several community colleges — the Community College of Philadelphia, Ivy Tech Community College (Indiana), Kilgore College (Texas), Pierce College (Washington), Jackson College (Michigan), Union County College (New Jersey), Mercer County Community College (New Jersey) and the Community Colleges of Spokane (Washington) — and Quad Learning. It provides honors programs on campuses and transfer support for students seeking their bachelor’s degree at selective or out-of-state colleges.

It also has a network of more than 60 four-year colleges, including top-flight institutions such as Stanford, Cornell, Amherst and Brandeis.

Though the CCRC study http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/publications/understanding-american-honors.html did not examine academic outcomes — that will come in a study to be released next year, along with a cost-benefit analysis — initial results look promising. According to Quad Learning, 95 percent of students who completed at least one transfer application to a four-year college or university received at least one acceptance. AH said 89 percent of students who applied were accepted to their best-fit 4-year institution.

“We are thrilled with our transfer results, which are truly a testament to the dedication and hard work of our students and faculty partners,” said Phil Bronner, CEO of Quad Learning. “These results, in conjunction with the CCRC brief, highlight the ways in which targeted programs conducted in partnership with higher education institutions can increase access and help students excel.”

The CCRC study surveyed 457 AH students and 461 non-AH students on six community college campuses. It found that AH students had high praise for their advisers and reported high levels of engagement with their academic work.

“At each college, each AH adviser managed a caseload of approximately 100 students, whom they advised on a wide variety of academic and nonacademic issues, such as program and course selection, work-life-school balance, and academic struggle,” the study said. “In addition to scheduled one-on-one, many AH students kept in frequent touch with their advisers through text messages, phone calls, or drop-in visits. AH advisers also taught a leadership seminar (typically taken in the student’s first semester) and a transfer seminar (typically taken in the student’s third semester).

“AH students were much more likely to agree that it was easy to access their advisers and that their advisers were “extremely knowledgeable” about transfer processes and college options, compared to non-AH students, whose advisers typically had caseloads at least 10 times as large as AH advisers.”

AH students must pay for the privilege of the intensive academic advising, enhanced curriculum and smaller class sizes that characterize the program. Under the AH business model, students pay a 50 percent premium on their tuition at the community college they attend. The college and Quad Learning split the added income in half.

The reality of substantial costs might account for the fact of the 800 students accepted into the program, a relatively low number came from low-income families. The study found that 21 percent of students enrolled in AH lived in low-income neighborhoods. Community colleges, of course, are where low-income students turn when they can’t afford a four-year alternative.

The study also found that a for-profit education company and a public community college can work together productively. Colleges eye for-profit entities warily.

Trust is at a premium. Many faculty members at the AH colleges were initially skeptical about bringing a for-profit company into their schools to run an honors program and concerned about charging students more for the services.

But many came to support the program when they realized that they — not the company — would control admissions, curriculum, and pedagogy and that students would receive valuable advising in exchange for the extra costs. Some faculty members remained opposed to the program, however, especially at one college that had replaced its existing honors program with American Honors, the study said.

Jaggers said that for-profit educational companies and community colleges can work together as long as firm boundaries are established.

“The college needs to have control over how the program is implemented on their campus,” Jaggers said.

Still, the American Honors program is not for everyone. Colleges located near state flagship universities, for example, might find it difficult to enroll the talented high school graduates that are the life blood of AH. They could prefer to enroll in the four-year institution as freshmen. Students, for their part, have to weigh whether the added fees associated with American Honors is a good value compared to the costs of directly enrolling in a four-year school.

And despite the promising transfer numbers, the jury is still out on longerterm academic outcomes of AH students. That’s what 2018 study will examine.

“Can the students succeed at the fouryear institutions?” Jaggers said. “There is a big gap between enrolling and graduating at the four-year. The study next year will track American Honors students all the way through to graduation. That will be important.”

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