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July 14, 2011

Lt. Governor Simon visits Parkland College
Freshman orientation, tutoring aim to increase college completion

CHAMPAIGN – Seeking to increase college completion statewide, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon visited Parkland College today to learn how changes in freshmen orientation and tutoring may help more Champaign-area students earn degrees and certificates.

Parkland administrators showcased the college’s newest completion initiative, First Year Experience (FYE), an “intrusive” and centralized advising program which interacts with first-time, degree-seeking students from the time they submit an application throughout their first year at Parkland. Prior to the implementation of FYE, admission resources were scattered around campus and orientation, which was only offered online, was not required.

“Too often students arrive at community college ready to learn, but unprepared to make the choices that put them on the path for a timely graduation,” Simon said. “With persistent and intrusive academic advising throughout the first year, we hope to see more students effectively use their time and money to accomplish their college and career goals.”

Simon announced earlier this year that Illinois leaders want to increase the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to 60 percent, from 41 percent, by 2025. As the Governor’s point person on education reform, she is touring the state’s 48 community colleges to see completion efforts at each campus, while also compiling ideas to overcome barriers to the state goal.

Administrators said as part of FYE, students are required to attend an on-campus orientation prior to the start of school and are encouraged to access websites and how-to videos for additional information about financial aid, academic advising and placement tests. The students continue to receive developmental guidance, including mandatory pre-registration meetings with an academic advisor, until they earn 30 credit hours.

This instant and persistent connection is designed to ensure that students are taking credit-bearing courses applicable to their field of study and persist to the next year of college work. Administrators are also developing student cohorts called First Year Academies as a way to connect peers in similar fields and encourage each other to accomplish academic milestones. One such example, the Health Professions Academy, groups developmental students seeking health-field degrees and teaches developmental coursework as it relates to the industry. Students who successfully complete the program are guaranteed placement in various health profession programs.

Simon spent much of her tour in the Center for Academic Success (CAS), a tutoring, advising and support center for students in developmental classes, which has produced promising results since its unveiling five years ago. Students who visit the CAS five times or more pass developmental math classes at a consistently higher rate than those who did not use the center. In spring 2011, the average pass rate for students in Math 094 was 46 percent. For students visiting the CAS five or more times, the pass rate was 82 percent.

“Since its inception in 2006, the Center for Academic Success has been at the forefront of the college's efforts to provide learning assistance and student development support to all students, especially those who enter college with developmental course work placements,” Parkland President Tom Ramage said. “Building upon the foundations laid by CAS, the First Year Experience program integrates best practices in academic services and student services to not only welcome new students but also to ensure that they have the best supports to successfully complete their first year. A successful first year enables students to attain significant momentum points to strengthen their progress towards the academic credentials.”

Parkland administrators echoed other community colleges when asked what the state could do to help increase college completion rates: The state needs to adopt a standard measurement of success that reflects the mission of community colleges and should simplify transfer requirements to four-year universities, so students are motivated to stay in school. Simon agreed.

“Illinois is serious about increasing college completion,” Simon said. “Up to this point, the emphasis has been on access, ensuring every student could walk into the door of a community college. But now we are expanding our focus to success, making sure that more students walk out the door with a piece of paper that leads to a good-paying job and helps them achieve the American Dream.”


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