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35th NACDA Convention
Orlando, Florida
June 11-14, 2000

Junior/Community Colleges Breakout Session
Open Forum Academic Monitoring, Outcome, Assessments and Database Management
Monday, June 12, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 nn

Ron Shertz

Thank you. A number of months ago, the vice president of our college came to me and said he wanted me to go before the faculty and talk to them about the retention programs we have at the Community College at Rhode Island. One of the things about Rhode Island is that we're a multi-campus organization with about 15,000 to16,000 students. One of the issues I felt anxious about was retention or monitoring students and I didn't have a clue. I had absolutely no idea about any programs we had that focused on hard rock kinds of retention strategy.

There are pockets of strategies around the campus that have to do with special programs. One of the handouts I have available represents a draft that those folks in the athletics program, Lou Pullano, Vin Cullen and I, are going to attempt to persuade our vice president and the academic vice president into capturing special programs that are geared and focused toward special populations. As we look around our campuses, we do have a number of special populations.

We struggled with faculty reporting, the progress of students who are not only just add-ons, but students who are enrolled in a lot of special programs of academic success, such as access to opportunity, special needs, etc., that we work with all of the time. Every single person in this room needs to know about progress of their special populations or, in these case, athletes.

Our goal is to identify athletes as a special population and, indeed, they are a special population. When I had to talk about retention strategy, I just simply disappeared. The first meeting went by and it was cancelled. The second meeting went by and I was told I was on the agenda. I figured I had something special to do on that particular Tuesday. I told him I couldn't make it. All the while, I was trying to generate some ideas and theory for the faculty about what we really do for retention. Many of you were here in the last session and Dave talked about this conflict between what we philosophically stand for. We want to get athletes out and make better people of our students and that sort of thing and what the practicality is and what the real world is. Many of you know and deal with that everyday.

He also said that those folks that transfer from junior colleges and community colleges to four-year colleges and universities, the graduation rate of those folks is very low. He mentioned in one particular sport alone, and that was basketball, that the graduation rate for those athletes is around 30 percent.

When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense to me. As dean, I stand in front of our students and tell them it's gotten to be more complex. Half of our students never make it to the second year.

What we say we do and what actually happens are two different things. We're trying to look and try and identify special populations in our campus. We've done it with other groups. We've done it with returning students, those students who are older and coming back. We provide special orientations for them. We've done it with disadvantaged students of all types. We bring them back and develop a special experience for them and their retention rates are very high. As a matter of fact, in some of those special groups, our retention rates are up around 90 percent. That's unheard of.

In one of those programs, we're talking a little over 300 students. I'm not sure how many athletes we have at the Community College of Rhode Island, but I know it's high. If we can work with special groups that have 300 disadvantaged students, academically disadvantaged, students that have come from backgrounds that aren't necessarily academically oriented, we can look at athletes in that vein, we can also present a special experience for them. This is what this particular proposal represents.

Joanne Fortunato, who spoke earlier, said we can no longer look at students as we once looked at them. The community is looking at them as clients. As clients, they do have special needs. They do have special interests. As a result of that, if we do not respond, we will miss them. I've been accused of overemphasizing that and dramatizing that. I fought back and said that your idea of education is mostly unconscious. That probably is inflammatory and I don't mean it to be that way, but we have to, as college administrators, coaches, deans and athletics directors, etc., develop an awareness, bring that from the unconscious to the conscience level. We have to be proactive. Developing those programs that we're talking about starts before the student is admitted into our programs.

It would be nice if we could be selective and recruit students and identify the best students for our programs. Community colleges and junior colleges with open admissions are mainly perceived as the last chance or last opportunity for many of our students to succeed, so we don't have the luxury of doing that. We have to fight back by focusing on special programs.

We are looking at identifying a special orientation that's related to academic experiences and social experience with an attempt to change behavior, in some cases. Our target population is athletes in this case. Our goal is to assess every single student that comes into our environment. Right now, that's probably 4,500 students per year. By assessment, we mean assess some basic skills and abilities, academic skills and abilities. It's not impossible because we are beginning to accomplish that goal. We were told it's impossible. You can't do that with every single student that comes in. We know we miss a lot of students, students that come in the evening. We miss those.

One of the things we don't want to miss are our athletes. We count on folks like you and Vinnie and Lou just to identify whom some of these people are. We then commit them to an orientation experience. Our orientation is not a one-shot deal. It starts off with assessing pre-college experiences. What has that student done in high school? We need to know what the student's academic records were, what their social economic background was. We need to know what were some of their peer relationships like. Some folks might perceive that to be invasive. If we get the information, we want to use it. It becomes part of our database information. The best predictor of any kind of behavior is to look at immediate past behavior.

How can you tell if a kid is going to graduate? Look at his grades. How can you tell if a kid is going to be successful in college? Look at his grades. Look at the kinds of activities he was involved in. We look at the kind of nurturing he had from his parents and his coaches and teachers. Those are predictors. We like to get that information.

Right now, we're using an instrument called Compass. Some of you are aware of the ACT. It is a program that offers us an opportunity to gather a lot of important demographic information, number one. Number two is to provide placement tests to students who come in. Placement tests are in the areas of grammar, reading, reading comprehension, math and we offer a paper and pencil writing test as well. What we do with that particular instrument then is to look at the student and identify a developmental need.

One of the things I had a hard time explaining to the faculty that did come to see about retention issues, is that we actually put students in courses like western civilization, chemistry, higher level mathematics courses and watching them rot on the vine. They were over their heads. One of the reasons that was happening was because there was no assessment up front that demonstrated any kind of intelligent placement for students who were choosing courses.

We assess it and make a determination of whether or not there is a need for developmental type courses. One of the courses we developed on a continuous basis is our program called student success. It's a five-week orientation program. We are attempting to make it mandatory for all students who come into our environment. Politically, it's not going to happen, at least in the not in the near future.

Can we make it happen with special populations? Yes, we can make it happen for access because they have a contract between that program and their behavior on this campus. Can coaches and athletics directors make that as part of a contract between their student-athletes? Yes, they can. We're hoping that they do. Our goal is to get them into that environment, assess their ability up front and place them in courses we think developmental needs are essential.

I looked at our nurses' program. Thirty-five percent of our nurses who graduated were functionally illiterate. There are some tremendous disadvantages to that if you want to go to that particular hospital. We know that we can generalize those kinds of norms and statistics. We've got to be careful what we do up front.

The orientation program looks at a number of things right off the bat. Adjustment to college is not just academic, it's social. It's integrating students into a whole new different environment. We have a substantial number of minority students attending our college. You try and tell folks to consider the adjustment of the minority student in our environment. It's different and it changes. It's not white kids or Italian kids, it's different. Their whole perspective is different. Their goals are different. How do you assess goals? Some of them are realistic and some of them are not realistic. That goes with all groups.

We also talk about the social and legal adjustment issues, something that is cropping up all over. There is an overall lack of awareness of legal consequences of behavior. There is. There's a denial on some part that people will end up experiencing some of the things they run into at the college level. It happens to other folks. It won't happen to me. You heard that this morning. Five or 10 minutes of a certain type of experiences can change your life. We know that happens with students all of the time. It becomes very complex. They find themselves, not only in trouble with the college or university, but also in trouble with the municipal police departments. More and more we're interacting with those people. More and more, we're also interacting with those people as athletes. We're trying to avoid this and create that awareness through this five-week orientation session. It's spelled out in the outline you have about some of the things we're trying to accomplish there.

Assessing goals, values, particularly career goals are what we need to look at. I'm just going to college and hope I get a scholarship is what they'll say. Or, they might think they are going to play ball or whatever the sports is. Those are their goals. They didn't figure on going to class. There are some folks out there who don't take that very seriously. We run into some faculty who have a different set of rules for athletes and a different set of rules for the rest of the student population. It may not be what we think. It may be that they are much more restrictive for the student-athletes. We run into problems with that too. We're always negotiating with that. We want that to be a good fit. If it's going to be a good fit, we better assess those abilities up front.

I know that's expensive. It is for us, but there are a lot of different ways of doing that. Colleges and universities tend to look at their athletes as special populations and can look at providing specialized services to them. It's not just that we're going to use a select group of professionals to deal with athletes. We don't do that, but creating a difference for that to occur is something we find we can do and that we're planning on doing with the goal of keeping them in school, helping them crystallize their career goals. Once we can do that and we've done it with other special populations, assessing values, if we can get students to think about where they want to transfer, we've achieved something.

Dave was right, without this, you've got a 70 percent chance of never graduating. If someone was to put a bullet in a revolver and someone told you to point it to your finger and pull the trigger, but don't worry, you have a 70 percent chance of the bullet not be discharged and blowing your finger off. Don't worry about it, pull the trigger. Are you going to pull it? I bet no one in this room would do it. Yet, we fiddle around with that 70 percent who are not going to graduate.

We're trying to take a more focused approach to our athletes. We want to put them into an environment where there is a developmental spirit. There's more contact between advisors and faculty. We want to expose them to the ideas that their careers are not only just what their athletics career is going to be, but what's going to happen when they graduate? What's going to happen when they go to the four-year college and participate in athletics and then graduate? They think they're all going to the pros. I guess that's the key. We know that's not going to happen.

What happens to that 70 percent Dave was talking about this morning? It's a good question. What we're trying to do here with a whole variety of academic services is focus on them and help them survive. Thank you.

Lou Pullano

Thank you all and have a great day.