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Student Affairs and Faculty Join Hands to Support Student Achievement at Miami Dade College
“It takes a village” is an overused truism at times, but we find value in using it to describe how our Roadmap to Completion pilot initiative sought to engage the community of Student and Academic Affairs at Miami Dade College (MDC) to support student success. Research has revealed that college students who successfully complete 50 percent or more of the courses required for their program of study within one year are more than twice as likely to earn their degree. It is on this foundation that MDC is building its Student Achievement Initiatives. And it certainly has taken a community of colleagues from all of the college’s internal constituencies to come together for the common purpose of developing academic and student support strategies that substantially increase student completion rates while maintaining access and quality.
Our Roadmap to Completion pilot initiative, part of AAC&U’s Developing a Community College Roadmap project, began two years ago with a look at the college’s inventory of student success practices and interventions, and it sought to identify opportunities where strategic enhancements could possibly lead to greater student achievement. The Roadmap team of faculty and administrators acknowledged the college’s comprehensive intervention efforts in supporting students who were not meeting the institution’s Standards of Academic Progress, since students who are not making satisfactory academic progress are unable to progress in their coursework toward learning and credential completion. As such, the Roadmap pilot team saw an opportunity to complement existing intervention efforts with some additional intrusive steps. MDC’s Roadmap to Completion model strategically connected faculty, students, and student affairs by utilizing the existing academic progress alert system and intrusive advising to address issues that cause barriers to student progress. We defined barriers as both cognitive and noncognitive factors that have the potential to create a delay in the momentum of student progress, thus contributing to the risk of inhibiting credential completion (ACT 2010).
MDC faculty use a well-established electronic academic progress alert system as a proactive means of keeping students informed of their progress at key points during the term. Faculty have the opportunity to systematically identify the students in each of their courses who are not making satisfactory progress, and these students automatically receive a notification e-mail to that effect. The desired outcome is for students to then exercise initiative and avail themselves of one or more of MDC’s supports—such as faculty office hours, peer-led or online tutoring in the student success center, advising, mentoring, or our Single Stop services which address non-academic life issues such as access to food or medical cash assistance, childcare subsidies, free legal and financial counseling, free tax preparation, and other services. However, the reality with our students proved to be that they did not readily access such services on their own; when not attending classes, they face pressing obligations of work and family to which they must answer.
The Pilot Phase
The Roadmap pilot endeavored to optimize the benefit to students provided by the academic alert system by convening the joint efforts of student affairs (advising) and academic affairs (faculty). The Roadmap team convened focus groups (students, faculty, and advisors) to understand whether what had been discovered was correct and to hear from college constituents on how best to move forward with a “proactive” and “intrusive” approach. The idea was to create a more robust and intrusive intervention that not only utilized the academic progress alert system, but was also complementary in inviting student affairs “to the table” to provide intake and advising to students identified as not progressing in a given course.
The Roadmap pilot garnered the participation of faculty who made their entries in the academic progress alert system at the institution’s designated time in the term, which subsequently generated reports that were received by our advisement and career services department for each student who was not making satisfactory progress. The department then used a combination of technology and in-person communications, coupled with advisement and direct referral strategies, to appropriately identify and address the academic deficiencies and life issues experienced by students. The Roadmap pilot was able to address academic and life issues, and also to reinforce the college’s student learning outcomes, by helping students develop an Individualized Education Plan; receive referral for tutoring; engage in service learning, internships, and student organizations; and access a plethora of high-impact support services. This collaborative referral process shows how far academic institutions have come to create purposeful ways and means to dismantle student affairs and academic affairs silos while promoting a culture focused on the mutual mission of student learning and success.
Narratives Speak Volumes
Post facto, it was also a meaningful exercise when the Roadmap team sought to glean the perspectives of academic affairs, student affairs, and students about the efficacy of integrating efforts in delivering particular interventions. One social work major indicated, “In regards to advisors and faculty working together, when my professors give me a progress report, my advisor sits with me to discuss it. This helped me by getting me the tutoring I needed.”
Professor Sarah Garman, senior faculty in developmental education, commented, “It can ‘take a village’ to help a student, and these alerts allow everyone to communicate easily and effectively.”
Lourdes Delgado, director of advisement and career services added, “These relationships between faculty and advisors allow for a more seamless and meaningful advising experience for our students, which subsequently contributes to greater academic achievement.”
Reinforcement of Student Learning Outcomes
In the coming years, the Roadmap project at MDC will continue to focus on intrusive advising and early interventions, with special attention paid to the integration of student learning outcomes (SLOs). Building on a college-wide mandate to refine and assess learning, each student services area has selected two of the general education SLOs on which to focus with intentional learning activities. The effects of this work will be measured with a pre- and post-assessment that gauges the competency of each student in these specific SLOs. Students will complete the assessment prior to their required individualized education planning session that takes place by the fourth week of the term. The two SLOs of focus for MDC’s advisement and career services department are “Solve problems using critical and creative thinking and scientific reasoning” and “Formulate strategies to locate, evaluate and apply information.”
Future plans also include the development of a reflective writing exercise to engage students in thinking about their purpose for attending college and what they plan to accomplish. During advising sessions, advisors would then refer to the piece and its alignment with a student’s accomplishments at various points during that student’s tenure at the college.
The lessons learned from the first three years of the Roadmap pilot initiative are meaningful in understanding the power of “the village” that makes student success possible. Confirmed very clearly is that both faculty and students see great value in the integration of their respective expertise in support of students. Students feel validated when there is an intrusive effort on the part of faculty and student services, collectively and in partnership, to address student achievement. Faculty are adamant about the merits of an alert system, and given that they are the primary users of such a system, they have valid recommendations to be considered. The Roadmap team acknowledges that for initiatives to flourish at any institution, there must be “buy-in” from all constituent groups, at all levels. In that particular regard, the support and cooperation the team received at Miami Dade College was most welcome. All roads lead to the continuation of a robust Roadmap initiative, so stay tuned for future updates.
ACT Inc. 2010. The Condition of College & Career Readiness. Iowa City: ACT Inc.
Vandal, B. 2010. Getting Past Go: Rebuilding the Remedial Education Bridge to College Success. Denver: Education Commission of the States.
Malou C. Harrison is dean of students and Isabel Rodriguez-Dehmer is a senior faculty member in developmental education—both of Miami Dade College.