National and local spotlights are shining on community college success rates. President Obama set an ambitious goal for the United States to increase the number of community college graduates to 5 million by 2020. In Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter’s education agenda calls for doubling the number of college graduates in the next 5-10 years. However, there is a glaring impediment in higher education to the attainment of those goals. Nationwide, over 60 percent of community college students place into at least one developmental education course. Unfortunately, "less than one quarter of community college students who enroll in developmental education complete a degree or certificate within eight years of enrollment in college" (Bailey and Cho, 2010, p. 1).
Community College of Philadelphia is engaged in a number of different initiatives to address the low success rates in developmental education. For example, placement testing has recently come under fire in the national literature as only "weakly predictive” of student success. In response, the Developmental Education program and the Assessment Center are working together to pilot a non-cognitive assessment. Such an instrument would measure attitude, motivation, perseverance and other traits that indicate college readiness. A non-cognitive measure used alongside our current COMPASS placement test will improve our ability to accurately place students in courses in which they will be successful. Along those same lines, the Educational Support Services Division and the Division of Adult and Community Education are collaborating to begin COMPASS placement testing with rising juniors in schools across our city. After testing, the high school students, their parents and their teachers will have a better understanding of academic strengths to capitalize on and the weaknesses that need remediation. Finally, the students still have two years of high school in which to improve their college readiness before arriving at our door.
Student success courses are also highly correlated with overall student success. The College’s Counseling Department offers Freshman Orientation Seminar (FOS), a one-credit student success course. For the Fall 2012 semester, FOS will be renamed College 101 and we will dramatically increase the number of sections available. Building on the success of FOS, Learning Lab faculty are now developing a new, expanded student success course, tentatively titled First Year Investigation (FYI): Philadelphia. This three-credit course would integrate academic content related to the city and student success curricula such as study skills, test-taking skills and time management. Through FYI: Philadelphia, students will be offered an exciting and relevant course for which they can gain college credit and learn the soft skills mentioned above at the same time.
The initiatives described here as well as many others that are underway in Developmental Education and in other divisions and departments across the Collage are part of our commitment to improve the success rates of students and enable them to achieve their degree or certificate from Community College of Philadelphia.