Lorain County Community College (Ohio)

College completion rates increased 26 percent over three years

Improvements began with the admissions process
Student completion and success are a priority for the nation, the State of Ohio, and Lorain County Community College. President Obama spoke about the need for 10 million more graduates from community colleges, four-year colleges and universities by 2020. This translates into a 30 percent increase in degrees from Ohio schools, or 230,000 more college graduates. Ohio ranks approximately average in high school students going to college, but ranks 38th in overall educational attainment. Ohio educators know that they can do better than that and are focusing on student success and completion. This is the backdrop for Lorain County Community College, located west of Cleveland, Ohio, with an enrollment of over 15,000 students.

Redesigned intake process
As part of its student success initiative, Lorain County Community College redesigned its approach to new students and created a New Student Process. The first change was to tighten the admissions processes, particularly the application itself and student assessment. In the past, students could take up to 12 credit hours before being assessed, but this was not deemed helpful. Students ended up in courses for which they were not yet ready, setting them up for failure. Now, if students are degree-seeking and want to take a course, they are required to complete designated assessments before their first term.

Another aspect of the New Student Process is a mandatory orientation, including completion of the College Student Inventory (CSI), a college completion risk survey which gives the college helpful information about each incoming student’s motivation and college readiness. The college’s research showed that while some students were able to navigate the system by themselves, the results were not optimal. So in contrast to the previous system, where students could apply to college, register for classes, and even attend the first term without ever talking to anyone, orientation is now required, along with a follow-up meeting with a counselor or advisor to discuss the CSI findings and establish either a short-term or long-term plan for student success. The CSI findings allow advisors to target their conversations with students, reinforcing the unique patterns of strengths the students are bringing with them to college as well as the challenges they are facing both in and outside the classroom. In addition, advisors and counselors are able to identify students’ needs for assistance and match those needs with available resources as soon possible.

The CSI also allows the college to divide its new students into risk categories. Between October 2012 and February 2014, the college administered a total of 4,827 CSI surveys; 70 percent of the surveys have been administered to new students. Twenty percent of new students had an index that was considered “At Risk” and interventions and services were provided. Fifty-two percent of new students were identified as “First Generation” and 44 percent presented themselves as “Undecided” even though they may have declared a major. (Students who scored in the 60th percentile or lower on the CSI’s “Life and Career Planning” scale were considered to be “Undecided.”)

At-risk and/or undecided students were then assigned to a Student Success Coach. The Student Success Coaches (SSC) are dedicated professionals who function as a cheerleader for the student from initial connection through completion. They help students develop strategies for success, completion of coursework, persistence in their degree or certificate program, and graduation in a timely manner.

The college’s next steps were to embed the CSI into the individual student’s career and academic plan by using an IPAS grant from the Gates Foundation and working with Ruffalo Noel Levitz to connect the CSI results directly into the student database. In this way, students always have access to their results with a single log-on, as do faculty and staff on campus.

As a framework and funding solution for the New Student Process, the college initiated SDEV 101, a mandatory college experience and success course. This course has a $10 per credit hour lab fee which supports the purchase of the CSI surveys.

In the three years after implementing this program in 2010, Lorain County Community College experienced a 26.4 percent increase in degree completion. In 2011-2012, LCCC conferred 1,314 degrees, an 11 percent increase over 2010. In 2012-2013, the number of degrees increased to 1,492, another 14 percent increase. The college has been recognized by Achieving the Dream as a Leader College, based upon the three years of successful student success improvements which directly tie to its strategic vision.

Postlude: Sharpening the assessment to focus interventions even more precisely
The CSI offers the option of including ten customized, campus-specific items and Lorain County Community College makes strategic use of these questions to gather more information about student readiness and challenges. The college’s three campus-specific questions center on the student’s ability to focus on their studies and their receptiveness to assistance:

  • I have many outside challenges that I am afraid will interfere with my ability to do well in school.
  • I am good at managing my time and focus and get assignments in on time.
  • I always ask for help when I need it.

Other questions further identify students who may be undecided at heart. For example, many students at the college sign up for a nursing degree because they know there is demand and there will be jobs, but there may be other majors in which they can be more successful.

  • Other people have advised me to choose a career in a particular field, but I’m not sure I agree with them.
  • I think I know what I’d like to do for a career, but I am not convinced I have the ability to do it.

The CSI question “I am interested in getting involved on campus in areas such as clubs, student government and student life” allows the college to make referrals to campus activities and groups for these students. Additional questions investigate the student’s technology readiness as well as the potential interest in taking online courses with the goal of finding the best fit and teaching modality. Also, the college identifies its first-generation students by asking “Has your mother, father, or legal guardian earned a college degree?” Taking advantage of the custom questions allows LCCC to further refine its targeted intervention strategies to key groups of students.

This case study is published with the permission of Lorain County Community College.  

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