Coordinating Student Completion Efforts
Faculty and staff at Lone Star College–Tomball were experiencing initiative fatigue—the weariness one feels when asked to serve on another committee that sounds like so many other worthy projects with similar goals. In this case, there were several initiatives focused on student completion—Achieving the Dream (AtD), Foundations of Excellence (FoE), Completion by Design (CBD), Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP, part of SACS accreditation), and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE). All these initiatives were becoming overwhelming and confusing. Many people had trouble remembering what each acronym stood for, let alone which aspects of student completion each was intended to address.
The initiatives share many common features and the goal of reflecting internally on how to improve the student experience and ultimately completion. All require support from the upper administration, each has a committee structure that facilitates broad-based participation, and each requires the use of data to make informed decisions. Despite differences in approaches and scope (first-year vs. the entire student experience), confusion was widespread.
“I kept hearing from the faculty, ‘We just did this with AtD. This is just repeating the same information,’” says Lee Ann Nutt, vice president of instruction at Lone Star College–Tomball. “That got me thinking, we’ve got to connect all this better, because the faculty aren’t going to keep jumping on board with this if we keep throwing the same committees together under different initiative headings.”
To help integrate the various completion initiatives, the Lone Star College System established the Office of Completion. This office is headed by the associate vice president for government affairs and student completion, who reports directly to the chancellor. This office is responsible for the following:
- Provides strategic and practical oversight for all completion-related functions
- Leads the development of a comprehensive and integrated completion agenda
- Provides strategic vision and operational leadership for the LSCS Texas Completes initiative
Lone Star College–Tomball created a matrix that links each completion initiative with appropriate goals within the strategic plan. This matrix clearly indicates (with a check mark) which completion initiatives support which goals.
“We rolled the matrix out to the faculty and said, ‘We’re not going to ask you to get involved in other initiatives. Our focus is on our strategic plan, and this is the structure we’re going to use to try to impact institutional effectiveness,’” Nutt says.
The idea of the matrix is to enable faculty and staff to see how their work on the various completion initiatives contributes to institutional effectiveness. (To see what the matrix looks like, see http://lonestar.edu/departments/president/Connection_Initiatives_Matrix_August2012.pdf.)
Feedback from the faculty has been positive. “They’re able to see the connections among the initiatives, and they’re more willing to contribute because it doesn’t feel like their effort is going to go in some report and nothing is going to be done with it. They see some implementation of what they’ve contributed, and when it’s structurally connected to the strategic plan, when reporting on it I try to keep the language in front of everybody. ‘This is what we said in the strategic plan, and here are the results.’ Overall the faculty have seen it as a relief that we’ve provided that very simple picture of all these initiatives and how they’re tied together,” Nutt says.
Sharing ideas, outcomes
Each initiative has its own reporting requirements. Foundations of Excellence required an action plan, which, Nutt says, was similar to a strategic plan with goals, actions, and time frames. The QEP—a requirement for accreditation—called for a five-year plan for the entire college system. Most of the other documentation is internal. “We have tried to make that reporting consistent through our institutional effectiveness process rather than separate reporting for each initiative,” Nutt says.
One of the challenges of coordinating the reporting of these efforts is to avoid the “check it off the list” mentality. “As leaders, we’ve got to look at the longevity of this,” Nutt says. “Even if the institutional effectiveness process sets this up to feel a little bit like a checklist, the challenge is how do you really ingrain those great ideas that merged through all these initiatives into the culture? It’s hard to keep that going if you don’t have someone always showing how all of this is connected.”
Communicating the outcomes and ideas of each initiative is an important part of integrating these completion efforts. The following are some ways that this work is disseminated throughout the college and the system:
- Roundtable discussions: For example, a series of roundtable discussions was set up to explore ways to address minority male completion rates. “We analyze the data and put it in a report, and every committee member has those findings, and we come together to talk about it at least twice a year,” says Susan Karr, president of Lone Star College–Tomball.
- Institutional Effectiveness Summit: This is a systemwide event to share data and compare results on several benchmarks.
- Completion Summit: LSC–Tomball recently held a completion summit that employed a Jeopardy-style format for disseminating findings rather than straightforward presentations of data, in order to create a fun, more engaging experience.
- Planning and assessment committee: This is a committee with representation from all areas of the college.
- Faculty and Staff Research Council: This group explores the latest research related to the college, community, and higher education trends; shares interdisciplinary scholarship and perspectives; and analyzes conclusions made from data. “When we have a specific item that emerges—for example, success of online students—I go to the Faculty and Staff Research Council and say, ‘Will you look into this for us?’ It’s a mechanism for faculty involvement. It’s voluntary. Whoever wants to serve on the council can,” Nutt says.
The idea behind these dissemination efforts is to engage faculty and staff so they “don’t feel hammered over the head with it,” Karr says. “I think sometimes things can be presented inadvertently where they think they’re trying to beat us over the head with the data rather than say, ‘Let’s look at this. This issue is all of ours. It’s not just dependent on one area—faculty or advising. We’re all in it together.’”