Wyoming establishing steps for higher college completion rates

Shaken by future outlook

By 2025, the Lumina Foundation estimated 180,000 jobs in Wyoming will be unfilled because they require employees with advanced skills to fill them, according to the executive director of the Wyoming Association of Community College Trustees.

Steve Bahmer noted Wyoming will be ranked No. 2 in the nation by 2018 for individuals needing an associate degree or higher to be competitive in the job market and meet industry standards, according to a 2010 Georgetown University forecast. However, only 30 percent of the college students in Wyoming are completing their associate degrees.

In order to fight against these predictions and fill those jobs, all community colleges will have to add 264 new degrees every year until 2025. LCCC would need to add 55 more associate degrees every year, Dr. Joe Schaffer, Laramie County Community College president, added.

Complete College America
Complete College America website

Taking actions to change the future

“This is a tall order, but we think Complete College America can help us to reach that goal,” Bahmer said.

On Sept. 14 Wyoming became the 32nd state to join Complete College America, an alliance of states with the goal of higher completion rates for college students in America.

Nationwide initiative to bring up completion rates

“Complete College America was founded in 2009 and is a national nonprofit with the mission to work with states to significantly increase the number of Americans with quality career certificates or college degrees and the close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations,” stated the About Us section of the website.

It is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and USA Funds.

Representatives from Complete College America and states in the initiative presented ideology and results of the program to administrators and trustees at this year’s Wyoming Community College Summit.

Inspired by working programs

One of the speakers at the summit was Peter Adams, director of the accelerated learning project at the Community College of Baltimore County, Baltimore, Md., whose completion rate for its students in remedial education changed from 30 percent range to the 80 percent range.

This college completely did away with its remedial education classes and instead had enrolled students in college credit classes. The individual student were responsible for the extra work. Students earned college credit for their classes, instead of taking noncredit classes, which can be discouraging.

Another speaker, Dr. Carol Puryear, associate vice chancellor of the Tennessee Technology Center, talked about how her school had taken a different approach on remedial education and re-examined the structure of the college. “They have reduced the numbers of options. They have a much smaller course catalog list, and their students don’t enroll in classes, they enroll in programs,” Bahmer said. The entire program is laid out from semester to semester to reduce confusion about what to take and when to take it. The college’s completion rate increased from 30 percent to more than 70 percent.

Bahmer said the first step to reach higher completion rates has been taken by establishing the relationship with the alliance. “Now, the work begins to actually implement programs, recommendations and best practices from them,” Bahmer added, “and then start to really improve our completion rates in Wyoming.”

Implementing the requirements for the alliance won’t be a major financial undertaking because the state has already done most of the work when it applied last year for a grant from Complete College America. The upside is all the support material available to the state is free because the alliance is funded by the major foundations mentioned.

LCCC is on right track

LCCC has already taken its first steps in educating itself about the process students have to go through, from the first contact with the school to their completion of a degree, Schaffer said. “We had, and will continue to have, significant changes in student services, new leadership,” Schaffer added. “We are looking at first-year experiences, and we are looking at a new advising model.” These are all important points in supporting students in the nonacademic realm in order for the students to be able to concentrate on their education, he added.

To identify programs to utilize Complete College America concepts, the college will look at great programs currently doing great work, like Adelante, and finding a way of implementing the best practices for all programs. “These are great programs where we are doing great things, but only for small population of students,” Schaffer said.

LCCC's Adelante program praised at Community College Summit

The Adelante program is funded by the Department of Workforce services. The program has been revised after last year’s community college summit, in order to set up their students for success, Ellen May, LCCC director of the program, said. May pointed out that the vast majority of college students today are nontraditional students, i.e. parents who go to school and work and take care of their children, and those are the students Adelante is helping.

“What we are trying to do is to achieve the both end approach; which is to get them the credentials, the short-term certificates that they need to get a higher paying job while at the same time promoting higher education,” May said.

Adelante was praised at the Community College Summit because the last two groups of students in the Adelante program had a 100 percent graduation rate. “35 percent of those students moved into higher education pathway, and two are pursuing a degree,” May said. This is a tremendous increase over last year, when 2 percent of the students took that route.

“Completing college makes good economic sense for students and for the state,” Bahmer said. “We have to think about how our state would be different if we were producing the educated students that we need.”

Complete College America

The Lumina Foundation
for Education

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Carnegie Corporation of New York

The Ford Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation

USA Funds