Both community colleges and bachelor’s degree-granting institutions across the country are responding to a chorus of calls for dramatic improvements in student success and college completion, while maintaining and improving the quality of students’ educational experiences. A companion challenge is to close persistent and troubling attainment gaps across a diverse population of students. Because Latinos are the largest under-served population and the numbers will continue to increase, achieving these goals requires consideration of how these students experience higher education and what institutions can do to better serve them.
Even more, given that community colleges are the predominant postsecondary option for Latinos — and that among students who enroll with the intention to transfer, only 14 percent had earned a bachelor’s degree or were still enrolled within six years — it is incumbent upon all institutions to fix the Latino transfer pipeline to increase college completion.
From their inception, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) have collaborated to bring a strong focus on educational quality, equity and high-impact practices to higher education institutions and the national discourse. With support from The Kresge Foundation and the Greater Texas Foundation, NSSE and CCCSE joined with Excelencia in Education in a project focused on helping institutions strengthen Latino student engagement, transfer and college completion.
The project paired 24 institutions — 12 community colleges with 12 bachelor’s degree-granting institutions from urban locations in California, Florida, Michigan and Texas — to work in partnership on Latino student success. Among other commitments, the institutional pairs brought teams of five leaders from each institution to an intensive two-and-a-half-day institute focused on strengthening the engagement, transfer and college completion of their Latino students.
Substantial data work, including the examination of student engagement data and student cohort transfer results, as well as a review and discussion of effective practices prior to the institute, prepared the teams to develop a collaborative action plan to be implemented on their campuses.
In addition, five institutional pairs participated in focus groups in an effort to elicit student, faculty and staff voices on transfer. The comprehensive review of student engagement results alongside cohort data tracking transfer and completion helped partner institutions identify salient student engagement and transfer patterns for collaborative analysis and discussion. Ten months after the institute, we asked teams to tell us what they had done to improve the engagement and transfer process for Latino students. Several themes surfaced.
The most common strategy put in place was recurring meetings.
Some institutions had formal committees, or transfer advisory councils, that met consistently throughout the year and included different compositions of administration, faculty, staff and even some students. In addition, several partner institutions conducted joint convenings, often termed summits, that included attendees from both the two-year and four-year institutions. Four institutions specified that they included representatives from local high schools to widen the conversation regarding the transfer pipeline.
Another common priority post-institute was to review degree plans and articulation policies for course equivalencies and transfer.
Participating institutions identified next steps to continue the work. At the top of the priority list was continued communication and collaboration with their partner institution and the need for more concrete steps. Several institutions described the importance of reconvening with not only their partner institution, but with members of their communities at their respective institutions by holding forums, giving presentations and intentionally involving satellite campuses. Institutions that were implementing transfer programs planned to hold collaborative events, continue to brand and market their programs, and use qualitative and quantitative data to inform programs and enhance transfer students’ experiences.
As colleges and universities work together to improve the engagement and transfer processes for Latino students, it’s important to keep in mind what one faculty member said in a focus group:
“I’m not sure that our own campus is dedicated to a Latino strategy. … While I commend the campus for things that we’ve done, I also think we fail to look for the structured conversation and have an open and honest dialogue: Why aren’t our Latino students performing at the same level? We do know that they’re not succeeding at the rates that we know they can succeed at. Where is that connection? Then once we do know that, then are we willing to be bold enough to offer the services or to intervene or whatever it is that’s required to help them get to where they want to be and where we’d like to see them be?”
― Evelyn Waiwaiole is director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, Dr. Jillian Kinzie is associate director of the Center for Postsecondary Research and Sarita Brown is president of Excelencia in Education.