Weekly Update – November 14, 2010

on November 14, 2010 in Weekly Update

Hello San Jacinto College Community –

This week was busy with trips to Austin and Washington, D.C., to review legislative agenda items at both the State and Federal levels. As you have heard, the emphasis at both levels is student success and completion and how funding will eventually be tied to these outcomes. There is also much discussion around how educational institutions can achieve these goals but still ensure that educational excellence and quality are the touchstones. These are important conversations and ones that the Board of Trustees, the Strategic Leadership Team, and I take part in through our Federal and State legislatures and organizations such as AACC, TACC, and THECB.  We will continue to emphasize these discussions and keep all areas throughout the institution up to date on these important issues and initiatives. If we don’t keep educational excellence and quality as our foundation, we—students, institutions, the region, and the country—will all lose in the long run.

On Thursday (Veteran’s Day), we held our 15th Annual San Jacinto College Foundation Golf Tournament featuring our host, Yankee pitcher and San Jacinto alumnus, Andy Pettitte. We were nervous about the weather.  But in the end, we received just a few downpours, and none were large enough to stop the events. Over the past 14 years, the tournament has netted over $900,000 to support San Jacinto College and our students. The goal for this year was $105,000; and while the numbers are not in, I suspect we will break that goal.

As part of the tournament, we held a jam-packed reception. We honored Board of Trustee Wayne Slovacek for chairing the event for the past 15 years, recognized several scholarship recipients, and heard some interesting baseball tidbits from Andy. During the live auction, we auctioned scholarships, and one Foundation Board Member invested $25,000 in an endowment in memory of his son. We also had investors at the $5,000 and $2,500 levels and multiple investors at $1,000, $500, and $250. By my calculations, over $40,000 was raised in this scholarship auction!!!

The finale of the reception was a tribute to our veterans and the announcement of our new Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success. We will be creating a Center at each of the campuses. These Centers will provide student veterans with one single source for all their enrollment, financial aid, Veteran Affairs (VA), and educational planning questions and automatically connect them to other services, such as disability and counseling. The Centers are being designed with input from a group of veteran students, and our focus is on how we can best meet their needs. San Jacinto College has seen an influx of about 200 additional student veterans each year for the past several years, and last year, records indicate that over 1,200 student veterans attended the College.  That number could be higher because it represents only those who received VA benefits. We expect the number of veteran students attending San Jacinto College to continue to increase during the next few years.

The Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success are being funded from multiple sources. First, the College recently received a $400,000 Department of Education grant to hire two “Veteran Success Coordinators,” with the College matching funding for the third position so that each campus which will provide a single point of contact with specialization in veteran’s enrollment. In addition, the coordinators will provide immediate assistance to student veterans, certify VA benefits, and work closely with financial aid. The Centers (about the size of two classrooms) are scheduled to open by next academic year with services donated from our facility programmer, architects, building contractors, and furniture vendors to support design, construction, and outfitting of the Centers. The San Jacinto College Foundation will support this initiative by fundraising efforts to fill the gaps in this project.

My assignment this week is to cover more of the actions under Strategy 3 of our Student Success Goal. As a refresher from last week, the strategy is to “Ensure a supportive and rigorous teaching and learning environment from the classroom experience to an effective array of student support services, including personalized academic and career planning.”  There are a total of 13 annual priorities related to this strategy.

Last week I addressed in detail the action related to creating a professional development platform focused on all employees understanding their roles in student success (remember this is the On Course training workshop). And I just addressed priority #4 which is to continue the development of retention and support strategies for veterans. Now, let’s move forward to priorities 1 through 3 under this Strategy.

1)      Research the development of a required comprehensive academic and career learning plan program for all students.  In most technical areas, the learning plan program is in place, and students are tracked and advised as they move through courses to certificate achievement and, then, to degree achievement. But 65% of our students are on an academic track, and we want to ensure that they have a learning plan in place also. We know that plans and goals are important steps to achievement. Currently, we are in the information-gathering process and developing the pieces from the following multiple avenues:

a)      Student Development staff are now working to revise the New Student Orientation to include advising with students who have completed placement testing that results in declared degree plans.  If students are unsure during that time, we may use the degree plan for a general studies degree to provide a framework for beginning courses, knowing that students may change multiple times within their time at San Jacinto College.

b)      The application process is under review. Currently, an application may have a 48-hour turn-around; we would like to explore a provisionary and abbreviated application which allows us to collect critical enrollment information and begin the advising process immediately.

c)      We are also exploring how best to use the Student Success course to develop learning plans with students.  In light of the fact that by fall 2012, all first-time-in-college (FTIC) students will be required to enroll in a Student Success course within the first semester, this provides a great means to ensure that all returning students by spring 2013 would have a written learning plan. Connecting learning plans to a Student Success course, as well as linking these efforts to specific student development strategies such as career interest, ability, and values inventory, is supported through our activities with the Developmental Education Demonstration Project grant that we received from the State of Texas.

The recommendations for a comprehensive program for academic and career student learning plans will be completed during spring 2011.  

2)      Explore and develop a plan for the re-design of advising and counseling support areas to include an approach that integrates academics, special populations, and support services including the call center; involves faculty in the advising process; and promotes the value of an associate’s degree and certificate.  Educational Planning and Counseling are well into a re-design initiative that included the re-titling of the Director of Counseling to Director of Educational Planning and Counseling and the re-titling of Student Success Coordinator to First-Year Experience Coordinator. A key component of this initiative is the integration of instruction and student services activities, which occurs through the work of the Instruction and Student Services Council (ISSC) and the Vice Presidents Council. These councils include representatives from both instruction and student services, and they are charged with eliminating silos and barriers to better assist our students. Additionally, a Student Advising Task Force will report to the ISSC this month on ideas for integrating faculty in advising functions. This task force, made up of faculty from Distinguished Faculty Level II and Student Development staff, has reviewed literature and promising practices from other institutions, along with gaining a greater understanding of our current advising and counseling model. Additionally, the College has numerous activities assisting specific student populations including the upcoming veterans centers, a Financial Opportunity Center (directive financial literacy instruction for students on financial aid and those on financial aid probation), the N2L (Never Too Late) program for older, returning students, tutoring and supplemental instruction for college preparatory and gateway courses, the Retention Calling Program, and other extensive first-year experience activities. All of this work and activities are being combined and analyzed in order to inform the re-design and integration of advising and counseling support areas to better meet the needs of our students.

3)      Assess the appropriateness of academic and technical degree plan structures, majors, and related requirements in conjunction with transfer and bachelor’s degree requirements and recommend appropriate revisions.  A Degree Review Task Force will also report at the upcoming ISSC meeting on how we can express our degrees and certificates more clearly to students, thus encouraging them to achieve these levels. This group is analyzing the value of “majors” and “fields of study” at the community college level and how this helps students after transfer.  Student Development, in conjunction with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Learning and Student Success, is reviewing all articulation agreements and program planners for transfer.  The task force is looking at compressing degrees into “cluster” areas, which will make following a degree plan easier for students, as well as recommending review of the credit hours required within degrees. Again, recommendations for appropriate changes are expected for late spring. 

These three priorities are closely related. The goal is to simplify college processes and systems as much as possible, while providing intentional and more prescriptive guidance in order to ensure that educational planning and advising are more beneficial and degree attainment more easily understood by our students.    

As you can see Strategy #3 is a complicated one. We are nearly halfway through with it!! My goal is to finish it next week!  So until then, have a great week and remember “Just One More” student being retained is significant in changing our outcomes…and more importantly theirs!!

Enjoy the fall weather!!


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