I’m proud to say that Front Range Community College and transfer partner Colorado State University are among just six “high-performing community colleges and universities” nationwide profiled in a new guide to help more students transfer and earn bachelor’s degrees
The Transfer Playbook, released in May by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and the Community College Research Center (CCRC), serves as a detailed guide for two- and four-year colleges.
FRCC + CSU = Success
The playbook draws on field research from FRCC-CSU and five other partnerships nationwide. It outlines the essential, effective practices for institutional leaders, along with a “How to Get Started” checklist. This report builds on a January report, “Tracking Transfer,” that assesses institutional effectiveness in transfer student outcomes nationwide and at the state level.
Best practice: Bridges to Baccalaureate
One of our own best practices was featured. Faculty at FRCC and CSU secured a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to create a clearly articulated pathway for students to transfer with full junior status in biochemistry, biomedical sciences, or psychology. The grant also provided students with supplemental instruction, research training workshops, and the opportunity to apply to participate in summer undergraduate research at CSU.
Pathways Project helps students navigate college
Perhaps the key message of the report is that creating clearer academic pathways for students and providing more guidance to them is the future for community colleges and the key to increasing the success of our students. FRCC recently joined 29 other community colleges in the country in the Pathways Project, an American Association of Community Colleges-developed and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported project. The Aspen Institute also is among the project partners.
Completion of this project will bring about a sea change in how we help community college students navigate through the waters of higher education to success.
A standard practice at most community colleges, including FRCC, has been to offer a “cafeteria” of choices. A marketing pitch might be, “You can choose from more than a hundred courses that transfer.” Well, research is finding out that this does not lead either to graduation or transfer.
As Rob Johnstone, the founder of the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, who visited FRCC in January, notes in Community College Week, “There is a myth that students enjoy wandering. They want direction.”
Academic maps create clear paths to graduation
That direction will come from what we are calling academic maps – clear paths, with milestones along the way, to reach the destination. Students can start with a broad map that points to a general career field, like health care or mechanical trades. With proper advising and career support, students move to a more specific plan, giving them the most efficient path to a degree.
Johnstone gave an example when he spoke at FRCC: Say a student wants to be a nurse. The student starts on the “health care” map with the proper fundamental courses. If the student stays on the map, regular checks with advising will show that the student is on pace and completing “milestone” classes. But maybe the student’s interest changes – or the milestones aren’t being completed successfully – so a different health-care field becomes more suitable to interest and academic performance. Instead of starting over – or quitting – the fundamental courses also support the student’s new choice. No “wasted” credits, no loss of momentum, no dropping out.
Other elements to support student success
There are other elements to the Pathways Project, including on-time registration, a new way to bring students into the college, student success courses, and proactive student support. We think the academic maps is the one to start with, knowing that this is a multiyear project and commitment. We’re just starting in this new direction, but the Transfer Playbook says we’re on the right path, and the Pathways Project will help us continue the journey.