Defining Institutional Success through Student Success

Located in Broward County, Florida, Broward College serves more than 63,000 students annually, offering certificate programs, two-year degrees preparing students for transfer or careers, and baccalaureate degrees. Honored as a Finalist with Distinction in the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the institution has developed a reputation for its achievements related to student learning, certificate and degree completion, graduate employment and earnings, and underrepresented minority and low-income student success. For the fourth year in a row, we have ranked first in the Florida state college system for graduate earnings and industry certifications, and we currently exceed state and national course-pass and degree-completion rates.

How did we accomplish these achievements? By implementing administrative goals that are tied to our students’ success. These goals are simple, yet effective, focusing on completion, enrollment, and retention. We cannot claim that our strategies are the only ones that work; there is no “one-size-fits-all” model that will yield the same results across all of higher education. Nevertheless, we share our efforts here in the hopes that others may find something worth adapting to their own institutional contexts.

Defining Success

Defining our success as an institution requires us to carefully assess our students’ short-term objectives relative to their long-term goals and to provide the right curricula, academic supports, and services to help them achieve these goals (see McPherson and Schapiro 2008). At Broward College, this means supporting a diverse student population striving for a wide range of outcomes. Like many institutions, Broward College serves a mix of traditional and nontraditional learners from various academic backgrounds. Our traditional learners typically matriculate directly from high school with the goal of completing an associate’s degree and transferring to a university to complete a bachelor’s degree. Our nontraditional students are mostly adult learners who come to Broward College seeking continuing education or workforce development with the objective of qualifying for immediate employment or promotion.

Broward College measures its achievements by establishing goals and expectations tied to our students’ aspirations. We compare our outcomes to state and national standards, as noted above; but we are never satisfied by merely meeting the acceptable mark. Instead, we aim to have a positive impact in our community and the wider society by producing graduates who exceed average expectations, both in their academic achievements and in what they are able to accomplish after leaving Broward College.

A Holistic Approach

At Broward College, we focus on the entire student experience, assisting each individual on the journey from prospective student to graduate. We have developed a system to help students navigate their courses and make smart academic choices. We engage them at every point along the academic journey, equipping them with the information they need to make career decisions early so they are driven to succeed in their chosen fields. 

The college offers several outreach activities to new students, including our summer bridge program, our new student orientation program, and our JumpStart enrollment initiative, which provides assistance with registration and enrollment. Our first-year experience program offers organized events to engage new students as they transition to college. These offerings are part of a strategic approach to helping new students adjust to the postsecondary education experience by providing important information and managing expectations.

To support current students, we have established a series of program progression benchmarks monitored through academic advising. Each student is assigned an academic advisor at the outset of the college journey; in addition to meeting regularly with students, advisors rely on an Early Alert system that notifies them, based on faculty feedback, of students’ academic and nonacademic challenges. Our advising team ensures that every student is on the path to graduate or to transfer to an upper-division baccalaureate program or a four-year institution. To help students plan for transfer, we have developed transfer maps using data from our university partners. Faculty and program managers keep this information up-to-date so students do not experience delays or leave Broward College with excess credits. We also regularly review courses to ensure that our curricula meet industry standards for employability, and we partner with industry leaders to establish learning outcomes that are tied to workforce needs.

Financial and social supports are critical to ensuring that students meet their completion goals. During the 2015–16 academic year, Broward College had 51,208 students who were eligible for Pell Grant funding, and the majority of our students have unmet financial needs. Yet federal grants and loans are often not enough for students to complete their studies. Through the Broward College Foundation and the support of industry partners, we have been able to offer an increasing number of scholarships each year. We have kept tuition affordable by implementing Florida’s 10K Degree Challenge, which called on higher education institutions to create $10,000 bachelor’s degree programs. We have also expanded our online programming, offering blended courses to accommodate busy schedules and online open resources to keep textbook costs low.

We supplement our academic and financial support programs with extracurricular activities and resources. These include our Academic Success Centers, where students can meet with advising teams, gain access to specialized tutoring services, and participate in mentorship programs. We strongly believe that every higher education institution should strive to produce graduates who have had opportunities for personal development and civic engagement, and who have grown from students into responsible and active citizens. Therefore, in addition to traditional extracurricular activities such as student government, sports, cultural presentations, and study abroad, we offer a wealth of opportunities involving community outreach or other events organized by the college or its community partners. In sum, because the college experience is far more than what happens in the classroom, we take a holistic approach to supporting student success.

Career Preparation

Broward College wants to ensure that students succeed as students—but we also want to facilitate their success after graduation. Therefore, to help students understand career possibilities related to our programs, we have transformed our career centers, providing dedicated coaches who forecast future demand and potential earnings in each field. The centers also offer valuable opportunities for students to gain work experience through internships and on-the-job training, as well as interview-preparation and job-placement resources.

To further assist students in making informed decisions about their chosen fields of study, we developed a tool called Career Ladders. Created using labor market tools, feedback from local employers, and faculty expertise, each “ladder” gives a snapshot of the different career possibilities connected with a particular academic program. The ladders emphasize program paths and help students understand how they can reach their career goals.

A number of corporate alliances support our graduates. These relationships provide companies a pipeline of highly skilled workers while offering students a practical understanding of life beyond the classroom. We have arrangements with organizations in some of the fastest-growing industries in South Florida, including health care, automotive, marine, aircraft, and information technologies.

Employers continue to call for improved workplace-essential skills in areas such as problem solving, professionalism, communication, and teamwork. We are partnering with the general education and career technical education assessment teams to develop microcredentials or badges recognizing students’ mastery in these areas. We plan to partner with faculty to embed practice of these competencies throughout students’ academic experiences.  

Finally, we continue to work with our employer community to subsidize students’ educations through paid internships, expanded apprenticeships, and employer-sponsored tuition. Together, we can help create a sustainable and economically stable community by connecting our students to their futures, no matter their ambitions or majors.

It is increasingly clear that the college must focus not only on current workforce needs, but also on the unknown needs of the future. Ensuring that students are able to problem solve, think critically, and communicate effectively are priorities alongside teaching the content and concepts of traditional curricula.

Supports for Faculty and Staff

Building institutional capacity for student success requires dedicated leadership across the college, from all members of the executive team, faculty, and staff. At Broward College, every department embodies our mission, allowing us to unify our efforts to achieve our goals. Our administration has invested in professional development and training to ensure that faculty and staff can employ new innovations and teaching strategies.

The college boasts a department dedicated to continuous training in the service of promoting excellence in teaching. This unit offers year-round opportunities for faculty and staff to learn about new tools and technologies and best practices in student support, and it facilitates collaboration across programs and disciplines to create synergy inside and outside of the classroom. For example, in 2013 and 2014, the department organized two sessions for faculty on the development of “productive persistence,” the combination of skills and tenacity students need to succeed in their academic pursuits (Uri Treisman, quoted in Silva and White 2013, 5). After participating in training, faculty work with the department to assess student learning as faculty use their new teaching strategies. These opportunities prepare faculty not only to teach effectively, but also to communicate with students and the public about what the college offers. Staff also have access to continuous training opportunities, including professional development days where participants attend multiple seminars on best practices, the latest trends in technology, or topics outside of their fields.

To monitor the effectiveness of our efforts, we have put in place measures of accountability. Through weekly Goals, Objectives, and Accountability Look-over (GOAL) calls, representatives from departments across the college report on ongoing initiatives and share ideas. We have also taken a strategic approach to communication with faculty and staff, instituting monthly learning council meetings and publishing newsletters on different topics of interest. We solicit feedback from students through focus groups and surveys, and we collect and analyze anecdotal evidence. A number of cross-program and interdepartmental advisory boards, such as our innovation board and our curriculum committee, provide input on, assess, and evaluate programs and policies. These comprise representatives from departments across the college and, in some cases, industry partners.

A Commitment to Continuous Development

We believe that the initiatives described above have helped close gaps between different student populations while improving our graduation and transfer rate outcomes. Between 2005 and 2009, our overall transfer or completion rates for first-time undergraduates rose from 33 percent to 52 percent for full-time students and from 18 percent to 25 percent for part-time students. But even though we have made great strides in supporting student success, Broward College’s leadership is committed to improving existing measures with new, complementary ideas that fit the dynamics of our institution.

Not every measure we have tried has worked, and we are constantly reviewing our initiatives and implementing new practices to reach our goals. Our newest initiative involves guided pathways. In 2015, we were selected as one of thirty institutions to participate in the nationwide Pathways Project, led by the American Association of Community Colleges. (Editor’s note: See Thomas R. Bailey's article in this issue for more information about this initiative.) The project has prompted us to create eight broad areas of study: Business; Education; Health Sciences; Public Safety; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics; Arts, Humanities, Communication, and Design; Social Behavioral Sciences and Human Services; and Industry, Manufacturing, Construction and Transportation. We are restructuring our overall approach to provide clear direction to students as they pursue particular fields of study or career objectives in these areas. Our efforts, both trials and successes, have contributed to a set of best practices for career pathways (see Wyner et al. 2016).

Our holistic approach has fostered the grit and determination of our students, resulting in better academic outcomes. Yet we are still learning and improving. The cultural, economic, and social contexts of Broward County, and of South Florida as a whole, are changing and growing, demanding flexibility of us and our students. And our measures for improving student success will never be exhaustive. We know that we must be committed to sustaining and surpassing our existing efforts for the benefit of students, faculty, staff, and our community.

References

McPherson, Michael S., and Morton Owen Schapiro, eds. 2008. College Success: What It Means and How to Make It Happen. New York: College Board.

Silva, Elena, and Taylor White. 2013. Pathways to Improvement: Using Psychological Strategies to Help College Students Master Developmental Math. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. https://www.carnegiefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/pathways_to_improvement.pdf.

Wyner, Joshua, KC Deane, Davis Jenkins, and John Fink. 2016. The Transfer Playbook: Essential Practices for Two- and Four-Year Colleges. The Aspen Institute and the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/media/k2/attachments/transfer-playbook-essential-practices.pdf.


Avis Proctor is North Campus President and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Broward College and Marielena DeSanctis is A. Hugh Adams Central Campus President and Vice President of Student Services at Broward College.

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