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Mapping First-Year Engagement and Educational Success
Hostos is a mid-size college situated in the South Bronx, one of the poorest congressional districts in the country. A large majority of Hostos’ students are the first in their families to attend college. More than 70 percent of our students come from a family in which English is not the native language, and upwards of 90 percent of our first-year students have at least one remedial/developmental need. Fully one-third are not proficient in any of the three basic skills areas: reading, writing, and mathematics. Faced with these obstacles, almost 40 percent of first-year students drop out of college by the end of the academic year.
To address these students’ needs, Hostos has undertaken several initiatives, each entailing extensive institutional reflection: the Middle States Institutional Self-Study; Foundations of Excellence (FoE) Self-Study; five-year strategic planning; and the Roadmap Project. These various college-wide initiatives provided direction and frameworks for the delivery of purposeful services to students, including reflection and review around bilingual and remedial/developmental education. At the time Hostos began working with AAC&U’s Developing a Community College Student Roadmap project, the college was reviewing the curriculum for its remedial and developmental educational programs, and it was focusing on the need to provide incoming students with a clear understanding of the expectations of college life. The concurrently developed strategic plan, also identifying these same trends, made one of its central priorities the interrelated challenges of retention and remedial/developmental education.
Within this context, Hostos used its involvement in Roadmap as an opportunity to review its first-year ESL and developmental programs. Specifically, the task was to develop a credit-bearing college orientation course that would be linked to the remedial reading and writing courses. The goal was to have a course that would engage students with the college through modules relating to available resources, time management, expectations, and, through the use of a common text, provide additional opportunities for reading and writing. For students in the ESL course sequence, the individual modules would be embedded as additional activities within the existing curriculum. This different approach was selected to accommodate the developing English language skills of the ESL students.
Hostos’s Roadmap project has metamorphosed over the past year, with the initial focus shifting towards the creation of individual curricular modules for use with incoming ESL students. The modules are designed to help them better acclimate to college life and better understand the expectations of college-level work. Using these modules as a starting point, a number of additional initiatives have been developed that build on the work originally created in conjunction with the Roadmap project. The goal was to pilot these modules and then, following reviews and revisions, to begin to incorporate them into the college orientation course that was a central part of the original proposal.
The first set of modules was developed and piloted through a two-day Summer Bridge Program for First Year Students in summer 2012. The Summer Bridge was a key recommendation from the FoE Self Study, and it was developed collaboratively across academic and student affairs. The program provided seventy-two entering students with focused modules on the topics of Classroom Expectations, Time Management, Educational Planning, and Developmental Learning Supports, as well as workshops on the Library and Educational Technology resources. The modules used in the Summer Bridge program were those that were proposed and initially developed for use in the Roadmap project. The success of the Summer Bridge has led to its replication for students during summer 2013.
Hostos also piloted Reading Mathematics, a series of 45-hour workshops to provide students from the developmental reading and developmental mathematics courses with the opportunity to explore the interconnections between reading and mathematics. This was accomplished through reading of and writing about various literary texts (both fiction and nonfiction) focused on the theme of mathematics. Throughout, students engaged in activities that explored the area of inquiry: How can I become a more effective reader, writer, thinker, and mathematics learner?
Almost half of the thirty-eight tested students passed the reading test and were able to progress with their studies, many attributing their success to the materials and workshop activities. Due to the success of the workshop, a mathematics-themed literary text was used in a fall 2012 developmental reading course.
Student Success Coach Program
In fall 2012, Hostos initiated its Student Success Coach program, the goal of which is to have every entering Hostos student assigned a coach to provide assistance in navigating college and adjusting to the expectations of college life. The coach will remain assigned to his/her student as long as that student is enrolled at Hostos, right through graduation. By the spring of 2015, the goal is to have every Hostos student assigned to a coach. In summer 2012, the coaches were oriented to the culture of the college through the Summer Bridge Program, New Student Orientations, academic advisement, and further follow-up with college support services.
Coaches continue to meet with their assigned students to assist them in identifying and addressing needs, interests, academics, and goals. The coaches do not directly provide students with specific services, but rather serve as conduits for referrals to internal and external supports, as appropriate. The roles undertaken by the Success Coaches are consistent with the findings of and recommendations from the FoE Self Study. Ultimately, the coaches will play a significant part in helping students remain in college and graduate.
The office of academic affairs has convened a faculty committee, chaired by a Roadmap team member, to work on the curriculum for the College Orientation Course, an initial Roadmap project. Although still in its early phases, the course curriculum will be based on work developed for the Summer Bridge program, as well as the orientation and training sessions for the Success Coaches. The goal is to have the curriculum for the course completed by the end of the current academic year for implementation beginning in the fall.
As Hostos completes its second year as a Roadmap college, it has become clear that the original proposal has not been implemented in the way that was initially envisioned. However, the college does not see this as an impediment to success of future Roadmap activities. More importantly, many of the facets of the initial proposal have spun off in various ways and are in the process of being implemented throughout the college. None of these activities could have been accomplished, even in modified form, if there had not been buy-in across the institution—proactive institutional support through presidential involvement, campus-wide cross-divisional study groups, and committees. In that regard, Hostos has been fortunate to have enjoyed, from the beginning, institutional commitment to student learning and success from the highest levels of the college. Moving forward, the college is looking to continue to implement the Roadmap work, connecting student success to curriculum revision, course development, support services, and the inclusion of high-impact practices.
Richard D. Gampert, is the acting assistant dean for institutional research and student assessment; Cynthia Jones is a lecturer in the English department and a fellow in the office of academic affairs--both of Hostos Community College, CUNY.