UCC Mainstream Online

Task forces analyze student barriers

What could UCC do to help students succeed?

Lower book costs - Josh Rard

Modernize the current arts program - Wes Elefritz

Update the water fountain in the Fitness Center - Katie Loomas

Have ESB tutoring open past 4 p.m. - Tink White

A food plan - Madeline Gidcumb

All photos taken by Jamie Glen / Mainstream

As young adult novelist Katherine Paterson once famously wrote “a dream without a plan is just a wish.” However, community college students who plan to fulfill their dreams of graduation frequently struggle to successfully navigate through UCC’s educational process. The struggle is especially difficult for non-traditional and at risk students who often make up the majority of UCC’s campus community.

This is why more than 50 faculty, administrators and students are working together on 26 new student success task forces as part of UCC’s involvement in the national Achieving the Dream program.  The national program works to “close achievement gaps and accelerate success among diverse student populations,” according to the program’s website.

At UCC, ATD is just one of eight recent guiding initiatives that the college developed to boost the number of students coming in and graduating. Over 200 community colleges nationwide are involved in the program which reaches out to over 3.8 million students at a cost to each college of $10,000 annually. ATD coaches and advisers travel throughout 34 states, providing college administrators with resources to help at risk students.

The goal of ATD is to “improve student success by utilizing data based decision making and seeking out the best practices that could be applied at UCC,” stated Les Rogers, head of the ATD financial aid task force. “We are really looking at how to make it (the process of beginning registration up to graduation) more understandable.  We all want the same thing, for students to be successful. That’s our goal. We want them to accomplish what they want to do, and we are doing this to try and seek out what are the barriers and how can we overcome them.”

Mary Stinnett, UCC math instructor and an ATD liaison, said, “ATD is focusing on streamlining the ‘behind the scene’ planning for students so that they can focus more on their studies and achieving their dreams.” Stinnett is also a lead member on the syllabus task force which is working to assure students get all the course information they need.

This examination of student needs is extensive. The 26 ATD task forces, for example, are divided into multiple sub-committees inspecting almost every aspect of student life and the college experience. The goal is to reform practices that prevent current and future students from achieving their dreams. “This year we are looking at pre-entry, entry, retention and completion and every step along the way, to see what we can do better,” said Joyce Coleman, vice president of student services. For example, the onboarding activities task force headed by a current UCC student, Michael Lewis, focuses on how to improve the admissions process , new student orientation and first year experiences. The retention activities task force is looking at student needs such as financial aid, UCC scholars, advising, and syllabus. 

How are these committees working to accomplish their goals? “We took all our initiatives that we have to do, put them all together and said ‘OK, this is what it looks like, and this is what we have and should be working on,” Coleman said. “Breaking down the data and talking to students. What are the roadblocks? You got out your front door to here, why’d you turn around and go back? How many students look at it and see it as daunting? Sixty-five percent of our students come in needing fundamentals.” 

Coleman’s fear is that any student may get lost in the cracks. “My philosophy is that every student matters.” This includes future generations. “What can we do to support kids and their families to get college ready? How can we help you?"

UCC has recently applied for an AmeriCorps grant to work with families in need.

UCC is also outreaching to youth orientated programs like the Boys and Girls Club to raise college-ready awareness among younger people.

The program, however, is not without complications. Many students on campus are unaware of ATD and its initiatives and how ATD will affect student life now and in the future. Of the over 10 UCC students we questioned, none knew what it was. The majority believed it to be a website or something associated with Dream$avers-- a program known locally for helping people save for goals such as college tuition and home ownership.

Further complications come from how broad the objectives are. The national ATD website itself lists 14 broad college aspects, everything from state policy reform and technology in education to visionary leadership. Some of the faculty involved are also a bit confused with how the ATD program objectives will be achieved. And, depending on what task force is overseeing the issue and what will be affected, approved proposed changes may not be implemented for years to come, according to Coleman.

In spite of this, Coleman holds this optimistic outlook for the future of UCC: “There is a lot of work to be done. But we are on board to reach out to the community and make a difference.”