Innovative ways to help students

Community colleges across the nation are trying to improve and find innovative ways to make sure students are successful. At a time when the country is putting great emphasis on education and with enrollment at colleges growing at rapid speeds, it can be difficult to find ways to make sure that every student has all the resources they need to graduate or transfer.

But that is exactly what Sinclair Community College is planning on doing, according to Steven L. Johnson, president.

“We are growing a lot, and we are concerned that lots and lots of students are coming to us, with lots of them being successful, but too many are not,” Johnson said. “We know it’s not simple reasons. Some of the reasons are very complex. We would like to see if we can evolve our colleges to make sure we understand why this is happening.”

Recently an association called the League for Innovation, whose members include the 19 top community colleges, and five other national organizations representing the 1,200 community colleges in the nation, wrote up a statement called “Democracy’s Colleges: Call to Action.” It pledges to increase student retention rate by more than 50 percent in the next decade, and continue to improve their programs so that students have the best chances at success, according to the league’s website, http://www.league.org/. The call to action can be viewed at www.nisod.org/membership/CallAction1.3.pdf. Sinclair is celebrating their 20th year with the League for Innovation this year.

The affordability, convenience and services community colleges provide to students make them more important now than ever, Johnson said. He believes that a lot of students will attend a community college for some part of their education, as the importance to obtain a college degree grows.

“The conclusion is we need to launch a process,” Johnson said. “Working with our faculty, working with the students and the board so that we can be sure we are providing the right resources, the right kind of programs and services.”

To adhere to that commitment though, Johnson said it is important to find out what students need. And to find that out he needs to hear their voice.

“It’s not possible to say right now what we are going to do because we just started the process,” Johnson said. “I can’t say that we are going to change x,y,z services at this time, but what we will be doing next in the process, as we move down the road, is start meeting with students. I personally want to hear from more students.”

The call to action has three parts to it; what they believe, will commit to and what it asks of its colleges across the nation. One of the items asks “every student to help one other student succeed.” Johnson said he has been trying to find ways to take this idea and use it, because it could be a breakthrough for student success.

“We already know that it works. It informally happens all the time,” Johnson said. “Whether talking in the hallway, class, study groups, library or the cafeteria. It is happening at one level and we want to explore the possibilities of taking it to another level.”

“Students helping students” could be very powerful for all community colleges if they could figure out a way to make it work appropriately, according to Johnson. He just doesn’t know what it looks like as of yet.

“I think that first of all, probably nobody has more creditability with a student than another student – especially another student who is successful,” Johnson said. “So I think that if we have students who have experience at Sinclair and a successful experience, that can help be a buddy or a mentor or tutor or shoulder to lean on sometimes; that could be a powerful assistance to students.”

The college has continuously proved to be one of the top community colleges in the nation because of their innovation in teaching and learning, courage to experiment and focus on access, according to Johnson.

“We want students to know that Sinclair is interested in their success. Our student success is also the success of our community,” Johnson said. “We have work to do at Sinclair to continuously improve, but we also know our students play a role in their own success and we would like to improve our partnership with our students.”

Tell us your thoughts about “students helping students.” What do you think would work? What would help you be a more successful student? Join the discussion forum on our website at www.sinclairclarion.com or find us on Facebook at Clarion Press.

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