Weekly Update – April 18, 2010

on April 18, 2010 in Weekly Update

Hello San Jacinto College Community –

We are nearing the home stretch of April and the spring semester. I hope you are finding ways to enjoy the multitude of activities at each of the campuses – we are busy, busy, but wouldn’t we be bored if there weren’t all of these choices and opportunities?

This past week, 21 of us from San Jacinto College attended the Entering Student Success Institute (ESSI) in Austin. The group included faculty, directors, deans, vice presidents, and presidents. The purpose of the conference was to focus on “improving the front door of the college experience,” and each institution used data from surveys conducted at their own institutions. For San Jacinto College, our survey data was conducted in the fall semester at each campus.  Specifically, the surveys were administered during the fourth and fifth weeks of the fall semester to students who were randomly selected from those courses that are most likely to enroll entering students. It is known as the Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE) and is administered by the Center for Community College Student Engagement which is the same organization that administers the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE).  SJC participated in CCSSE in spring 2007 and spring 2009. If you are interested in learning more about these surveys, go to www.enteringstudent.org.  The CCSSE results were shared last fall across the College, and the SENSE results will be rolled out soon.  Thanks to the faculty who facilitated the administration of these surveys in their classrooms.

During the ESSI conference we worked as three campus teams, as well as having collaborative sessions in which we worked as a college-wide team.  From our campus data, we found that the benchmarks related to early connections, high expectations and aspirations, and an effective track to college readiness were areas that concerned us or caused us to ask additional questions. The following explains the benchmark areas in greater detail:  

          **The early connections benchmark relates to how the student thinks about his/her experiences from the time he/she made the decision to attend SJC through the end of the first three weeks of the first semester.  The questions in this area focused on such items as feeling welcomed when first arriving at the campus, adequate information provided about financial assistance, staff members assisted with financial assistance, staff members learned my name, and a specific person was assigned for specific assistance.

          **The benchmark of high expectations and aspirations is based on the assumption that nearly all students arrive at their community colleges intending to succeed and believe they have the motivation to do so (81% of our responding students indicated they intended to obtain an associate’s degree and transfer to a four-year college and nearly 87% said they had the motivation to do so).  The questions in this benchmark area focused on students’ perceptions of success in the classroom, and they were specifically asked about turning in assignments late, not turning in assignments, and skipping class.

          **The effective track to college readiness benchmark is based on national data indicating that more than six in ten entering community college students are underprepared for college-level work and that effective assessment and placement are critical for student success. The questions in this area related to required versus exemption from placement testing, required courses based on placement testing, and courses and other resources available so students can learn and understand their academic strengths

Our work during ESSI helped us to identify areas where we want to focus and that will be included in our strategic planning process.  Some of the results of how our students felt about the front door of the College were surprising, and we realized that we must examine those entering processes and make improvements.  We learned that our students want to make more frequent connections to people—both those who teach them and those who support them.  And each of us has a role in our students’ experience at the College and the support of their learning and achievement.  We had time to discuss what is working well and talk about ideas of how we can build on this.  We also heard from many other colleges who are facing similar challenges and had the opportunity to hear presentations on some of their successful strategies.  Additionally, SJC was asked to present on two of our programs, mandatory orientation and the retention calling program. These programs are new but they appear to be encouraging strategies that we will continue to monitor and enhance.

The keynote speaker for the conference was Dr. Sandy Shugart, President of Valencia Community College. His message was similar to the one that he delivered at our Fall 2009 College Community Week.  At ESSI, he discussed the importance of learning by design referencing an old quote that many of us have heard about every system is perfectly designed to get the results that it regularly produces. His comments continued about the importance of educational institutions taking a fresh look at their systems. He also told the group that community colleges cannot be afraid of the truth regarding student success (i.e. results at many institutions are disturbing with only 46 to 55% of students being successful in the first semester). Finally, he told the group that no longer can educational institutions talk about student success, but rather it was time to “just do it!”  

One other item for this week that I want to bring to your attention is related to a land purchase. On Friday, San Jacinto College purchased nearly 24 acres of vacant land across from the North Campus on Uvalde.  We have been working on this purchase and the related due diligence for over five months.  As we looked at the future growth of the North Campus, we were concerned about land availability. This piece of property will be considered as part of the future master planning for the College.  Some of you may be aware that SJC owned this piece of property (as part of a larger parcel) back in the 1980’s. The sale and repurchase of this real estate actually placed the College ahead when one considers the time value of money and the tax revenues that were collected during the years.

The end of a semester is approaching, and this is always a stressful time for everyone. I am sure all of you can remember a time as a student when you were stressed as the end of the semester was fast approaching. I have several vivid remembrances, and when I was in my doctorate program, Ruth and Beverly (two administrative assistants in the department of education) were the encouragers; they could sense when the students’ stress levels were reaching the maximum level and offered an encouraging word.  Please make   time to encourage our students through this stressful time…and while you’re at it, encourage a fellow SJC employee as well. In addition to the usual hustle and bustle of closing out a semester, we have commencements coming up, we have the new performance management system to coordinate, and we entered a funding year in March.  It is okay to acknowledge that all of us are feeling the pressure from many directions, but we have to find ways to manage the busy-ness and focus on the good work that we do for our students.

Have a great week!

Best,

BH

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