Prioritizing Access and Equity in Student Success with Karl Smith, TCC


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Unsurprisingly, the pandemic created some challenges for accessible and equitable services for students. But today’s guest also demonstrates how it heightened some existing challenges. Karl Smith is the Vice President of Student Affairs at Tacoma Community College, and he is passionate about helping students navigate the process of higher education. How has he found success in helping students overcome these challenges? It’s more than collecting and analyzing data.

In this episode, Karl shares the strategies used at Tacoma Community College to ensure that every student is allowed to thrive. By using a holistic approach and outreach strategy, students are connected with the resources they need, whether that be reliable internet service, tutoring, or even childcare options. The truth is that higher education was designed for a specific age range, but now students of all ages and races are pursuing higher learning. How can we be sure to provide access and equity to all students in an ever-changing society and economy? 

Show Notes:

  • [2:03] – Welcome to the show, Karl! Karl shares his background and current role at Tacoma Community College.
  • [3:26] – Karl is passionate about helping students navigate the process. This comes from his own experiences as a first-generation college graduate.
  • [4:40] – The pandemic created new challenges and heightened existing ones.
  • [7:19] – Through constant communication, Tacoma Community College is able to see the impact of these challenges.
  • [8:21] – Data can only show so much. Karl demonstrates how they use data and how they look at trends in society.
  • [10:24] – What data does Tacoma Community College look at and how do they combine this information with their observation of trends?
  • [12:10] – At TCC, there is an Enrollment Management Team that is composed of different people from around the whole campus.
  • [14:50] – One of the challenges the pandemic caused was the modality of receiving an education – online only or a hybrid.
  • [16:13] – In addition to moving courses online, student services were also moved online and it was found to be extremely convenient.
  • [18:10] – Civitas Learning has recently been implemented at Tacoma Community College. Karl describes the program and why it has helped provide students with support.
  • [20:41] – Previously, students needed to ask for support most of the time, but now in many institutions, we can take action.
  • [23:17] – In every situation, students have been thankful for the outreach.
  • [24:21] – Karl shares the initial concern he had about this outreach, but a student committee confirmed that they would respond positively.
  • [26:18] – When going into a potentially difficult conversation, staff need to be trained on how to help struggling students to tailor the resources to their needs.
  • [29:25] – Some students are successfully navigating the system, but for a growing number of students that is not the case.
  • [31:28] – TCC is proactive to student needs through different strategies.
  • [33:36] – This holistic approach is improving student outcomes but it takes time.
  • [36:04] – Students are more likely to persist with this kind of support semester to semester.
  • [38:15] – College students come in all ages now, but college was built for ages 18-24.
  • [41:15] – We assume that the challenge is the coursework, but in many students’ lives, that isn’t the case.
  • [42:53] – How we allocate our resources creates the outcome we’re looking for. Students are capable but we have to make sure the resources are aligned to their needs.

Links and Resources:

Karl Smith, Vice President of Student Affairs Tacoma Community College

Karl Smith is currently the Vice President of Student Affairs at the Tacoma Community College. Where he currently leads the development and implementation of a strategic enrollment management plan, aimed at increasing the College’s enrollment through recruiting and enrolling new students, as well as successfully retaining current students. He stumbled into higher education after finishing the master’s in teaching program at the University of Washington and deciding to take a year off from teaching. His professional career started in 2001 on the frontlines of admissions recruiting as the African American Outreach Coordinator for the University of Washington Seattle, serving the Tacoma community. A gap year turned into a lifelong passion. Through hard work, innovation, a data-informed approach, and a student-centered philosophy, a career on the frontlines turned into 19 years of progressive service in public higher education.

Katy Oliveira, Host & Producer, Next Practices Podcast

Katy oversees content at Civitas Learning where she showcases customer experience and practices to improve student success and reach institutional goals with the Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform. In her 15-year higher education career, Katy gained extensive experience in student success as an academic advising, advising leader, and faculty member. She is also the creator and host of the Apple Podcast featured show, Collegehood Advice.

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