Bold innovative thinking to improve student retention, attainment and well-being – Austin Community College’s response to the challenge
Some of the greatest challenges in Further and Higher Education lie in student retention, engagement and wellbeing and attainment. They call for radical thinking. The feature describes a bold approach to do it differently and make a difference. The author, Stacey Güney is director of the Highland Campus ACCelerator at Austin Community College and an adjunct professor. Stacey is a contributor to the forthcoming book (late 2016) – Developing Employability and Enterprise (Kogan Page), authored by Doug Strycharczyk and Charlotte Bosworth.
The majority of students in higher education in the US attend a community college. Increasing the success rates at community colleges is critical for meeting national goals for college attainment, promoting upward social mobility, and driving economic growth.
Access, success and persistence at community colleges is an issue for all students, particularly for developmental students and minorities Upon arriving to attend community college, two-thirds are not prepared for college-level work and are referred to developmental courses. Unfortunately, pass rates in developmental course rates are extremely low. The situation is even more pronounced for minority students.
A bold and radical solution is required in order to work with students who have been underserved by their previous educational experiences. A holistic approach that transforms the traditional learning experience and unifies all areas of instruction and students services is required to alleviate the equity gap in higher education and address the developmental educational needs that now serve as a gatekeeper for many students. This approach is grounded in the research surrounding the importance of growth mindset (Carol Dweck and Dr. David Yeager), GRIT and resilience (Dr. Angela Duckworth), and, in particular, Mental Toughness (Dr. Peter Clough and Doug Strycharczyk). The importance of developing metacognition and the mindset for learning has never been more important.
Austin Community College decided to think BIG in tackling this issue by unifying a variety of programs and services under one room in an area the size of a football field.
The new 30,000-square-foot ACCelerator lab, installed inside a building that was once a shopping mall, provides over 600 virtualized desktops for scheduled classes, individualized learning, and small group sessions. In addition to technology-based instruction, the ACCelerator features an extensive support network of faculty members, academic coaches, counselors, advisors, tutors, librarians, and other staff members—all ready to help students succeed by providing student-centric and proactive service. It is open nearly 100 hours each week – four nights a week until midnight. The mission of the space is quite simple: to get students to come, stay and return. In turn, this should boost access, success, and persistence.
This innovative approach is working with student persistence and success rates significantly higher than for other students – particularly for developmental and minority students. The ACCelerator’s technology has enabled ultrapersonalized learning, turning the spacious environment into a modern incarnation of the one-room schoolhouse. In order to leverage this technology, ACC’s pedagogy has shifted to focus on the individual student and offer immersive student services; the result is a state-of-the-art center for innovative learning, training, and community engagement.
Colleagues from across departments and from both sides of the house — academic and student services — work cohesively in the space. Academic coaching supports all subjects through focusing on the metacognition skills required to “learn how to learn.” This has prompted the incorporation of new models of customer service and the integration of mindset interventions into daily interactions.
For example, the main desk is called the “Start Here” desk (as opposed to the Information Desk or Help Desk). Upon greeting each student by name, staff ask “How may we assist you?” rather than “How can I help you?” to reinforce student empowerment and teamwork. In addition, all ACC team members are roaming in the space proactively looking for appropriate and timely interactions with students. They are readily identifiable by wearing bold-colored vests so that students always know that there is assistance (and a friendly smile of encouragement) nearby.
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