From Optional to Required: Orientation, ACA 122, and Early Alert at Durham Tech
Durham Technical Community College's faculty, staff, and students identified a need to enhance the college's front door experience as a result of our work with the national Achieving the Dream initiative and from data collected from the Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE). First-to-second semester persistence rates indicated that Durham Tech, like most community colleges in the nation, lost 30% of our students in the first semester of enrollment. To respond, the college implemented a comprehensive first-year experience for all first-time-in-college students. Faculty and staff redesigned the college's orientation and ACA courses, required both the orientation (via registration hold) and ACA 122 course of all new college students, and provided an early alert initiative to provide intrusive support to at-risk students in developmental education and ACA courses.
Scores on the pilot administration of SENSE and again during 2009 confirmed the need for new processes. Although the college had a pre-enrollment orientation program in place advertised as an enrollment step on the website, 67 percent of entering students indicated that they were not aware of this orientation and only 22 percent indicated they had attended.
The first phase of our response occurred in 2008. That year, Durham Tech reorganized the orientation program with two goals: increase participation and maintain quality. As a result of promising a quick turn around of our enrollment application process if students attended at an orientation, the attendance of new students at orientation increased by 350 percent from the previous year, representing the largest number of students ever attending a new student orientation (743 new students). Results of the student learning outcomes for the orientation sessions were equally positive. Of the students who attended the orientation, 92 percent indicated they had learned the skills necessary to get a good start at the college.
The second phase of our response has occurred in 2010, beginning with students enrolling for Fall Semester and continuing forward. The college has moved our implementation to full scale, with all students who are first time enrolled in college required to attend the new student orientation, called a “ConnectSession.” We enforce this requirement by placing a registration hold on all students’ records that may only be removed by a member of the Advising Center staff after either attending an orientation or documenting that they have completed at least 12 credits of transferable college-level courses. We have decided to offer our orientations initially all face-to-face, with more than 20 sessions prior to each term, generally four per week. Each session accommodates 50 students in a computer lab and allows students to set up their email and student information accounts and, if during registration, actually register for classes.
Within one year, we have provided this orientation to more than 4,000 students, which represents the largest full-scale implementation of any success initiative. We are currently measuring success of this intervention by assessing student’s perceptions of meeting five specific learning outcomes. Our data on these learning outcomes are overwhelmingly positive. More than 90 percent of all students attending the ConnectSessions indicate that they have learned all of these skills at the completion of the orientation.
One message became clear with our work: “Community college students do not do optional” (McClenney, Kay). When we first offered an ACA course as an elective, students who needed it the most did not take it. To respond, Durham Tech built broad consensus on course design and content; then we added the course as a requirement on select programs to gradually introduce the requirement. The following year, we placed the course on all plans of study and developed a policy to reach the most at-risk students by requiring the course of new students who have fewer than 12 college-level credit hours earned. Then, to strengthen the requirement to take the course in the first semester of enrollment, students are now given specific instructions to sign up for this course during their new-student orientation session.
This course is a key intervention on Durham Tech's campus; it is an instrumental part of how we plan to increase student persistence through the first year of enrollment and beyond. Therefore, we must have highly skilled, highly engaged faculty teaching the course. Because the course is transferable to our university system, we must also have highly qualified faculty. We require that our ACA 122 faculty be full-time faculty or staff, recent retirees, or long-term adjunct faculty members who hold at least a master’s degree. They all must complete an intensive, 15-hour training workshop before they are approved to teach.
To bring the intervention to full-scale implementation, Durham Tech moved from offering 3 sections of the course to 85 sections annually. The college leadership made a commitment to this intervention by creating new positions; we have a Director of the First-Year Experience and currently have two full-time faculty members who hold the title of Instructor, First-Year Experience. These faculty members teach 8 sections of the course each term, serve as student advisors, and conduct a number of the new-student orientations as part of their teaching load. Other faculty teach this course as part of their load (it counts as 2 contact hours, although the class is a 1-contact hour course) or on an overload contract (paid at $29.00/hour for 32 hours; the course meets for 16 contact hours).
Another related intervention is a process Developmental Education and ACA 122 faculty use to refer students who exhibit at-risk behaviors or who indicate a need for additional support to Academic Alert Tutors and/or Early Alert Counselors. These tutors and counselors work with the faculty member and student to provide extra support beyond what is available on a walk-in basis in the college's Center for Academic Excellence and Counseling and Student Development offices.
Early and Academic Alert is specifically designed to get the college's arms around our students and help them make a connection with college faculty and staff who can provide assistance and support when students encounter academic or life barriers that may cause them to disengage or may challenge their resiliency. We have recently focused attention on connecting the ACA 122 course with the Alert interventions as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following questions and answers provide more detail about our initiatives:
How does the ACA 122 course relate to other inventions?
We have paired the learning outcomes found in the ACA 122 course with learning outcomes in our required new student orientation sessions. We have also implemented our early alert (at-risk counseling intervention) in all sections of our ACA 122 course.
How many credits is your course?
ACA 122 is a one-credit, two-contact hour course.
What do you cover in your course and what textbook do you use?
The ACA 122 course outline is available at the following link: http://www.durhamtech.edu/html/prospective/coursedescriptions/courseoutlines/ACA122.pdf
When and how do you offer the course?
The Director of our First-Year Experience conducted action research to determine the best format for our course. We offer 85 sections of ACA 122 per academic year. Most sections are 10-week sessions beginning the first week of the term. We also offer some mini-session (8-week sessions) in the first and second half of the semester. We also offer a limited number of classes in other formats, including weekend and online sessions.
How should I introduce the Early or Academic Alert initiatives in my class?
Tell your students that the college is aware that almost one fourth of new students don’t get past the first semester. We don’t want this continue to happen. As a result, the college is doing everything possible to get every student through the first semester of enrollment. That’s the point of the initiative. We want to offer support to any student who wants or needs it.
What would we like student perception of the initiatives to be?
The focus of our discussions should be about support. Encourage students to take part in these initiatives but also make sure that students understand that they can opt out if they choose (which, of course, is an indication that you should try to provide as much support to these students as possible within the context of your class). We are asking students to be open to letting us connect them to resources if we perceive them to need an extra measure of support.
Is there a deadline for referring students to Early Alert?
The goal is early intervention. We know that students who exhibit difficulties in the first couple of weeks of the semester are the students who are most likely not to succeed. For this reason, we encourage faculty to identify and refer students early in the term.
What kinds of issues should be Early Alert referrals?
Academic issues should result in an Academic Alert referral. Life issues a student exhibits or indicates that you feel may negatively affect the student’s ability to persist or perform in your class should result in an Early Alert referral (see the referral form for specific examples).
What is the difference between Academic Alert and (Life Issues) Early Alert?
Refer a student to the CAE (WYNN 1310K) Academic Alert tutors for academic issues; refer him/her to the Early Alert Counselors (WYNN 1309) for life issues – see referral form for specific examples. You may refer a student for both types of assistance by submitting two separate forms.
What are instructor responsibilities after a referral has been made?
Instructors are expected to work in partnership with the counselor and/or tutor to provide support to the student. You may be contacted by phone or e-mail for information or updates on your student’s progress.
What can/cannot a counselor share with an instructor about a student who has been referred?
The counselor will work with the student to determine information or support strategies that might be shared with the instructor. In some circumstances, though, the student may request that the information shared be kept confidential. The focus is on providing students access to the educational process and supporting them in their endeavors at the college.
Our data for the required college success course and the support initiatives associated with it (ACA 122) are affirming. To assess the effectiveness of this intervention, we track the persistence rates of students who are required to take our college success course (entering students who have fewer than 12 hours of college level credits completed). We now have data for four cohorts: Fall Semesters 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. In addition to persistence rates, we track the percent of students in our target group who enroll in the course to monitor to what degree we are engaging our intended audience. We also consider students’ GPA during the term an in the subsequent term. Further comparisons are made for target students who complete the course, students who complete the course but are not within our target population (i.e., they are not in their first semester or have earned more than 12 credit hours prior to enrolling in the course), and those in the target group who do not enroll in the course in their first term of enrollment.
The following tables compare the persistence rates of students who were required to take and completed ACA 111 (Fall 2007 and 2008 only) or 122 in the first semester of enrollment with those who were required to take the course and did not.
Note that some students enroll in the course in their second term of enrollment or beyond; they are not included as completers for the purposes of these comparisons. In 2007 and 2008, the target population included students who had earned fewer than 18 credit hours. In subsequent years, the target decreased to fewer than 12 credit hours earned. To make better comparisons over time, we include only students who had completed fewer than 12 credit hours prior to enrolling in the course for each of the four years in these data sets.
Fall Semester 2007 ACA 111 and 122 Students
#Students - #Returned Spring 2008 - Persistence
Successfully Completed the Course 89 65 73%
Took the Course, Regardless of Final Grade 116 77 66%
In Target Group but Did Not Take the Course 1123 640 57%
Fall Semester 2008 ACA 111 and 122 Students
#Students - #Returned Spring 2009 - Persistence
Successfully Completed the Course 165 146 88.5%
Took the Course, Regardless of Final Grade 218 172 79%
In Target Group but Did Not Take the Course 1003 582 58%
Fall Semester 2009 ACA 122 Students
#Students - #Returned Spring 2010 - Persistence
Successfully Completed the Course 165 143 87%
Took the Course, Regardless of Final Grade 237 187 79%
In Target Group but Did Not Take the Course 950 536 56%
Fall Semester 2010 ACA 122 Students
#Students - #Returned Spring 2011 - Persistence
Successfully Completed the Course 220 196 89%
Took the Course, Regardless of Final Grade 293 241 82%
In Target Group but Did Not Take the Course 856 501 58.5%
Students who entered the college for the first time each Fall Semester and who successfully completed the course in the first semester of their enrollment re-enrolled in Spring Semester at significantly higher rates than students in the target group who did not enroll in the course in their first term. These results may be somewhat expected if one ascribes to the belief that success breeds higher persistence. However, we see continued marked difference between those in the target population who take the course in their first term, regardless of whether they complete it with a passing grade or withdraw from the course, as compared to those who do not enroll in the course.
As a result of considering these data, college leadership continues to feel confident that requiring the First-Year Experience course in all degree programs is an appropriate and effective method of increasing student persistence. However, we continue to learn from the analysis of our data, and these data also clearly indicate that many of our students are not taking the required course within their first term of enrollment, despite our work to require the course. In Fall 2007 just 9.4 percent of the intended target group enrolled in the course; while that number has steadily increased (17.9 percent in Fall 2008, 20 percent in Fall 2009, and 25.5 percent in Fall 2010), we continue to have more than half of the seats in the courses filled by students who are interested in taking the course but are not within our intended target group. These students report high levels of satisfaction with the course, and their persistence rates are very high (80 percent for the Fall 2010 students), we struggle with managing the costs associated with offering the course to very large numbers of students. To serve all the students in the target group, the college would have to schedule 46 sections of the course each fall term (and additional sections in spring and summer terms for new entering students). We currently offer 36 sections, with more than half of the seats being taken by students outside the target population. To continue to serve these students in addition to the target group, a total of 75 sections would have to be offered in the fall term.
We suspect that the high number of enrollees who are not in the target population is due to two factors: the reputation of the course and inaccurate advising. Students are referred to enroll in the course by their peers, faculty, and counselors who celebrate the benefits of the course. Also, we suspect that advisors may still be giving inaccurate information about the course requirement. For example, some students have been told that the college success course is a graduation requirement, which defeats the purpose of taking the course early in a student’s academic career. As a result, some students enroll in the class much later than they should.
Durham Tech has recently taken additional steps to further support the college success course strategy. In Fall 2010, two new faculty members were hired with the title of Instructor, College Success. They report to the Director of the First-Year Experience within the Student Engagement and Transitions department, which also includes Developmental Education and the Center for Academic Excellence. These new instructors’ duties also include working closely with Counseling and Student Development staff in conducting new-student orientation. Learning outcomes have been developed to match the instruction provided in the new-student orientations with the content and activities provided in the ACA 122 course. Also, the advising model for first-semester enrollment has been changed to ensure greater consistency of advising information for students who are new to college.
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