BCCC hopes to match its new commitment to access with a commitment to student success
Beaufort County Community College is covering tuition and fees for students until 2023, expanding access to higher education. But if students are going to thrive in a 21st Century workforce, access has to be matched with success. To rise to this challenge, the college has assembled a committee to evaluate college functions to improve outcomes around six key areas: persistence, retention, graduation, completion; college transfer; career readiness; critical and creative thinking; informed citizenship; and intellectual adaptability.
A legacy of economic inequality in eastern North Carolina means that all students do not have the same opportunity to succeed in college. It is sometimes difficult for first-generation college students to compete with students who come from privileged backgrounds in terms of perseverance. Distractions–be they family, financial, or medical–the promise of short-term economic gain, or a general feeling of hopelessness, make it challenging for students from these backgrounds to stay motivated and stay committed to their academic success.
“Historically, community colleges have focused mainly on access–that is, enrollment–without adequate follow-up on completion,” said Dr. David Loope, BCCC President. “Those days are over; it is essential that we not only enroll new students but that we retain and graduate them. Our local economies are depending on student success.”
As automation replaces jobs in forestry, farming, financial services, and retail food, a college education is essential for residents to find rewarding careers in advanced manufacturing, education, healthcare, business, and the public sector. Employers look for employees who can think on their feet, resolve conflicts with co-workers and customers, and make processes more efficient. By graduating students with creative and critical thinking skills, as well as a civic mindset and resilience, the college hopes to prepare its graduates for long-term social and economic success.
The Student Success Committee is specifically looking at the success of first-generation college students and African-American men. It is also looking at creating alternative pathways for Associate in General Education nursing students who are not admitted into the Associate Degree Nursing Program. The committee is setting baselines using incoming students during the Fall 2021 semester and will use these data to determine outcomes.
The college hopes to increase first-year retention rates, three-year graduation rates, and the number of certificates and degrees awarded per 100 full-time equivalent students. BCCC will grow its graduation rate for underrepresented minority students and low-income students, and increase the number of certificates and degrees awarded per 100 full-time equivalent unrepresented minority students to meet its equity goals.
Three of the goals are standards in which the college already performs well compared to peer institutions.
“Right now, we’re doing really well,” said Amanda Stevens, Chair of the Student Success Committee. “We’re looking to improve, but we have a very narrow margin because we are already doing pretty phenomenally. Our college transfer rates are already very high. Our student success rates in basic skills like math and English are already pretty high. Career attainment for our students is pretty high. Our persistence, retention, completion, and graduation rates are good. According to state benchmarks and external bodies, we’re doing the job that needs to be done, and we’re doing it well. Now we’re trying to find some creative ways to improve success even more.”
Over half of the students who graduated from the AA or AS transfer degrees enrolled in a university and 87 percent of those where still enrolled a year later. With a 51 percent success rate in math, the college ranks above average in North Carolina. Sixty-three percent of the students who started at the college in 2016 graduated, ranking BCCC nine percent higher than the average community college in North Carolina.
Three of the goals are internal goals that are not measured across the state: critical and creative thinking, informed citizenship, and intellectual adaptability. While the committee is still formulating ideal ways to measure these goals, the intent is to foster students who can reposition themselves in the workforce as the speed of technological innovation accelerates and the increasing complexity of the global economy lends itself to unpredictability. Media literacy is an increasingly necessary skill at a time when misinformation spreads rapidly and widely.
Steps toward these goals include adding art, music, English, and math to additional programs, fostering clubs that focus on service projects and creativity, showcasing program projects across campus, including college-wide events such as Constitution Day, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month. Some ideas include encouraging exams that replace memorization and recollection with analysis. The college created a video of students encouraging each other to vote in the 2020 election, as well as a video of staff reciting the Preamble to the United States Constitution.
For now, the committee is gathering baselines on the internal goals. Because items like critical thinking, civic engagement, and adaptability are more complicated to measure, they are still evaluating the best measures of success in these areas.
The college has applied for a federal Strengthening Institutions grant that will create a permanent advising center tasked with helping students determine their program of study and signing them up for their first semester of classes. The college would also purchase software that would guide students through the admissions process more smoothly and follow them through their classes. The software would alert staff if a student needed intervention before they failed or withdrew from their classes.
This commitment to success is long-term. New programs and techniques will take time to implement and evaluate, but BCCC knows that resilient, creative, and capable graduates are a bedrock to a solid local economy and community.