College affirms its total commitment to student success

Success. At Jackson College, student success is our highest priority. Just as students in the classroom have subjects to master and objectives to be completed, Jackson College has done its homework to ensure student success.

“Jackson College set out on a journey five years ago to remake itself, one that is redesigned, recommitted and redoubled in focus and action toward student success – we call it Total Commitment to Student Success or TCS2,” said President Daniel J. Phelan.

“To that end, our Board of Trustees, administration, faculty and staff have been unrelenting in our innovative planning, research, strategy and operational efforts to ensure a greater level of achievement for all concerned. As a testament to this charge, our College’s First Belief is that ‘the success of our students is always our top priority’ and, as such, it guides our daily work.”

That commitment to success is the College’s way of saying that, in all that we do, we are unswerving in our focus on assisting students to succeed, whether through completion of their program of study, obtaining a credential of market value, or transferring to a baccalaureate- granting institution, Phelan added.

“The goal of TCS2  is to make student success inescapable, to make it bullet-proof,” said Kristi Hottenstein, vice president of student services.

Investing in People

NavigatorTo accomplish this, the College has increased the number of people serving students in both the admissions and student services areas. Admissions staff helps students make a good start, and new student services personnel — now called student success navigators — help students persist and complete their goals.

In 2014, the College established a specific admissions department dedicated to welcoming prospective students to campus. They reach out to area high schools and guide new students through the enrollment and orientation process.

To help students persist, extensive research has found a personal connection to a college employee helps. College officials studied several models and found an expanded advisor model – called success coaches or student coaches – to be the best choice for Jackson.

One college studied, Kennedy-King College of Chicago, quadrupled their number of academic advisors and required regular monitoring and intervention by advisors of their students.

Kennedy-King’s three-year graduation rate tripled in just four years and is now above the national community college average.

“Retention is a by-product of a good educational experience. Intentional, comprehensive advising is a way that students can feel more connected to campus and feel like someone is looking out for them,” Hottenstein said.

Investing in success

Following these success coach models to boost that “personal touch,” in 2015 the Board of Trustees provided the financial decision that allowed the College to hire the first wave of student success navigators – personnel who serve not only as academic advisors but as the student’s academic, financial and total resource advocate or coach. Previously, each advisor at the College worked with an average of 1,468 students, which made it difficult to offer more than a “transactional” level of service. With the hiring of the second wave of navigators, that ratio has dropped to below 300 to 1, allowing navigators to be more relational in their interactions with the students who are specifically assigned to them. Navigators and students regularly meet – in person and by phone, message or e-mail – to guide students through their entire college experience and stay on track.

Over the past two years, the College has invested more than a million dollars in hiring 12 new navigators, and six existing advisors have received additional training to serve as navigators. Training and professional development opportunities have helped navigators do the job set before them.

“We’ve already seen that internal and external customer satisfaction data has greatly improved,” Hottenstein said, citing a Student Satisfaction Inventory where Jackson College was well above the national average. Introducing this innovative action is one of the reasons why Jackson College is routinely benchmarked by other community colleges around the country, selected for grant opportunities, and nationally recognized, Phelan said. Plans are to have the initiative fully operational later this year.

“Our Board of Trustees made the difficult decision to raise tuition over two years in order to establish a ‘relationship/client- based’ model of supporting students, through the student success navigators,” Phelan said. “In time, as we continue to grow in our understanding of student success strategies and consequent revenues, we will build upon other core areas of the College, advance our talent base and build upon previous successes, all leading to a more vibrant community college, enhanced student outcomes, and more educationally enhanced communities which we serve. We are excited about the future.”

Khamarah Willis is a 2016 graduate who plans to transfer to Spring Arbor University to complete her bachelor’s degree. “I have found that the staff and everyone are very helpful,” Willis said. “I feel that every staff member I’ve come in contact with has taken that commitment to heart, and they have what is best for me in mind.”

Pathways to Success

Jackson College wants to give all students a clear plan to complete a college degree.Another effort to boost success is called guided pathways, which will allow students an easier time navigating through academic requirements. Each of the six pathways is a broad content area, a kind of “meta-major.”

They are:

  • Business & Computer Technology
  • Health Science
  • Human Services
  • Liberal Arts
  • Science, Engineering & Math
  • Skilled Trades & Agriculture

Pathways provide students a clear program of study schedule, with milestones marked along the way to support their progress. “This effort is all about getting students on a clear path from start to finish,” said Provost Rebekah Woods.

New students will enroll in a seminar class to help them identify their own strengths, passions and values to help find a career program or field. If a student completes the seminar course and still can’t decide on a program, then exploratory plans are available within each pathway, and these will move the student toward a credential while they are still exploring options. As they progress, student success navigators will work with students to help them stay on track.

“Go to any college’s website and imagine having to pick a major and select courses toward a degree. Your head will spin!” said Professor Ted Miller. “The work our faculty has done to group our programs into six broad pathways and design clear maps toward completion will make students’ college journey far less daunting.”

Nationwide efforts

In recognition of its national leadership and work to date, Jackson College was selected as one of 30 community colleges nationwide for development of a national pathways model. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, together with institutional resources, this project provides an expanded opportunity to further enhance the College’s work aimed at guiding students to a successful experience at Jackson College.

More than 100 members of the faculty, staff and administration from across the College have been involved in the pathways planning. While program maps and exploratory pathways have been created, students will still work with their student success navigator as they progress, as each individual comes in with different needs. And while each pathway offers a course plan from start to finish, students are not locked in if they change their minds. But, again, in working with their student success navigator, they will understand what changes will mean to their goals and completion.