As part of its promise to create a community of practice that is Learning Together™, Civitas Learning will highlight the early work of its Partner institutions in periodic Learning Briefs. We will be sharing new ideas, platform and application implementations, and iterations that work toward a shared goal of helping a million more students a year graduate by 2025. Partners are working separately and together to gain greater understanding of student journeys through their institutions. They use these insights to guide interventions, to inform effective practices and policy, and to power applications for advisors, faculty and students to measurably improve student outcomes.
Austin Community College
Founded in 1973, the Austin Community College District (ACC) is a regional community college district with 10 campuses and 7 centers located in and around the city of Austin, Texas. It is the second largest institution of higher learning in Central Texas. In fall 2013, ACC enrolled 43,000+ credit students and also serves some 15,000 non-credit students annually. The college offers more than 100 fields of study, many in high-demand career fields.
Student Advising to Improve Persistence
Austin Community College (ACC) has been engaged in a multi-year student success initiative focused on improving participation, persistence, graduation and transfers across all student categories. “We are proud of the great work we have done,” said Dr. Virginia Fraire, who serves as the Dean of Student Services at the Pinnacle Campus and who is leading the Degree Map™ implementation efforts. “We have improved our persistence rates for fall-to-spring by 4% for all ethnic groups from 2007-2012. We are also doing innovative work in competency-based learning and in accelerating developmental education in math. There is still great potential for increasing completions. ACC has seen fall-to-fall retention rates drop by 3% for Anglo and Hispanic students and 6% for African-American students from 2007-2012. We are intentionally focusing some of our success work on the advising process, which for many students, only occurs once, at the point of entry.”
In 2011, ACC took the first step and transitioned from an all-paper advising process to an “e-advising” Education Plan, in an effort to better track progress and conversations for its students.
Initial Degree Map™ Goals
- Provide advisors and students with a clean, clear snapshot of their current degree plan
- Allow advisors / students to get a quick comparison of different degrees
- Provide students with degree options that maximize their current credits
- Allow students to quickly see the implications of switching to another degree program
- Enable students and advisors to focus their efforts on elevating the advising conversation
At ACC, approximately 25% of students enroll to pursue certificates, enrichment courses, or improve a skill. The other 75% is evenly split in their intent to transfer to another institution (typically a university in Texas), or stay to earn an associate degree. “About a year and a half into the new e-advising Education Plan, we had an invitation to hear from Civitas Learning about how we might further enhance the advising process,” said Fraire. “We were intrigued with the concept of adopting an advising tool that would help us facilitate richer and more relevant conversations between advisors and students,” said Fraire. “At the time we were also exploring ways to continue improving and scaling advising, and saw an opportunity to explore this partnership with them.
Ethnographic Study Identifies Opportunity for Innovation
Initial meetings involved multi-disciplinary teams from ACC, including President and CEO Dr. Richard Rhodes and Dr. Fraire, advisors, counselors, representatives from Admissions and IT, along with Civitas Learning’s data engineers, designers and scientists. An ethnographic study was implemented with Civitas Learning staff observing more than 200 hours of ACC student-advisor sessions. This enabled the team to best understand ways to enhance the mechanics of advising and gain greater efficiencies. It added effectiveness for the advisors and counselors, while increasing insights into opportunities to enhance conversations with students.
“Historically, academic advising has been focused on course prescription with less attention on the dream that brought them to us,” said Fraire. “We are working to change that. This is important because some of our first-generation college students have not had great exposure to academic and careers options. Our goal is to be able to spend more time talking about their vocational and academic goals to find better fits, and to identify the stumbling blocks and challenges they may face along the way.”
One challenge the team sought to address was making it easier for students to see where they were on their academic journey. “ACC wants to help students plan beyond one semester, so they can see their own pathway to degree completion,” said Fraire. Read more in the ACC Learning Brief.