Posted at 11:05 a.m. Oct. 19, 2015

Completion rates exceed expectations for third year

Since 2012, Laramie County Community College has seen a 25 percent increase in degree and certificate production, over-delivering on its 5-percent-a-year increase goal for student completion rates. In 2014-15, LCCC awarded 857 degrees and certificates, which was 67 more than the projected number of 790. In 2013-14, the college awarded 840, 88 more than the projected 752. And in 2012-13, LCCC beat its projection of 716 degrees by 18 with a total of 698.

Over the past four years, LCCC has seen an increase in student completion because of “more effective strategies in its agenda to take action in helping students succeed,” LCCC President Dr. Joe Schaffer said.

The college has been implementing four strategies, over the past three years, to achieve the goal of helping more students graduate. A focus on assisting students in earning college credits comes first in the four-part strategy.

“A variety of things have been making a big change,” Schaffer said. He added that the practices the college has implemented have been proven by research in student success and completion. Such practices have been identified and designed to have a major impact on students.

One such practice has been the implementation of a new student orientation. In the past, orientation was voluntary, attracting only a small amount of participants. Past years have shown that students who have participated in orientation have a higher fall-through-spring persistence rate than those who did not, which is why orientation is now mandatory for incoming students.

“We know that if we get students engaged and give them the information they need they are more likely to persist and actually succeed,” Schaffer said

Another strategy the institution has implemented is a new case management advising model. Like orientation, advising was voluntary but is now required to encourage student success.

Schaffer said LCCC’s faculty and staff have found that, in some cases, students were misinformed on which academic paths to take.

“The new holistic advising model has already had a significant impact and will continue to have a similar impact,” Schaffer said.
Understanding that some students on campus are the first in their family to attend college, Schaffer and the college developed a mandatory advising course known as COLS 1000, an Introduction to College Success. Modeled after the national push for high-touch student success that is a service model for campus-based strategies, COLS 1000 provides a classroom setting where relationships are built within the college community and students learn about resources the college has to offer, discuss higher education, explore different careers and develop an academic plan.

The other two strategies that have been implemented involved redesigning programs, but the effectiveness and value of each strategy most likely will not be seen this academic year. Schaffer said the first is new and redesigned articulation agreements with universities. Articulation agreements are a process where two or more academic institutions partner to provide a formulized pathway for student transfer. With a variety of majors on campus, LCCC has searched for new ways to find the right university, complete a four-year degree and make earning a baccalaureate easier, Schaffer said.

The other strategy was to redesign the scope and sequencing of programs. Before 2013, the LCCC catalog had many programs that would require more than a full-time load from a student. Schaffer said that load is “unrealistic.”

At one time, associate degrees required more than 70 credit nominations. Programs are now being redesigned to be covered and remain close to 60 credits.

“If you would need that to get your degree or certificate we are setting up students to fail or leave without a credential,” Schaffer added. “It’s either transfer early or give up.”

To prescribe which courses should be taken each semester to successfully complete school in two years, faculty additionally designed degree pathways.

“A lot of the curriculum design is to get the student through the credit more successfully,” Schaffer said.

To make sure all these strategies are successful, a strategic research process was created to collect updates on recent strategies, the history and how success is measured. To encourage students to choose a plan of study, the COLS 1000 course and the advising model have been put into action. Prior to the implementations of each initiative, the research process saw a substantially higher amount of students at the beginning of the semester and an increase after comparing the fall and spring persistence rates as an indicator.

As those two strategies are evidently effective in helping the college reach its goals, Schaffer said he is confident in all four strategies and are the only new strategies taking effect at this time.

“We’ve got a pretty good road map of the strategic plan,” Schaffer said, “so what we need to do is get those implemented and working well.”

Things almost never work out perfectly the first time around, but Schaffer said the college will continue to improve on each strategy’s progress each semester.

However, without funding distribution models, where local and state funding come into play, the college’s new strategic plans have no value.

Fifty to 60 percent of all college funding comes from the state, 20 percent from tuition and fees and the remainder from local funds. As the performance of the strategies become more and more promising, the college has been moving toward allocating larger shares of state funds.

Originally based on enrollment, student success is now how performance is measured and will play an increasing role in how the state funds are allocated in the future. The college is looking into courses that have lower success rates to develop strategies to help students succeed.

In the short term, Schaffer doesn’t see a significant fiscal impact on the institution, however, as larger portions of funding are linked to student success, there could be an impact.

“If we don’t take the right steps, there may be some broader negative impacts,” he said.