Dr. Denise King, Vice President of Academic Affairs

Cleveland State is in the process of a major transformation. All academic and support programs, processes and procedures are being reengineered as integrated structural pathways designed for individual student success in career or transfer. This work is guided by the Pathways Project of the American Association of Community Colleges. CSCC is the only institution in Tennessee chosen to participate with 29 other community colleges from across the country. Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, six institutes held over two years will help the college chart this large-scale institutional reform.

We’ve set an ambitious goal: to revamp everything from student intake to professional development, from marketing to student advising, and have it all in place for the 2018 academic year.
CSCC sought to participate and was selected for the project because we had already implemented many best practices of the pathways model: a required freshmen success course, co-requisite remediation at scale, faculty-driven advisory program, and academic focus areas that organize orientation and registration. In addition, we can boast of a history of success in curricular redesign, particularly of developmental education.  The college’s “Do the Math” innovations in developmental and collegiate mathematics earned us national recognition in 2009 with a Bellwether Award, as well as a shout out from President Obama as an exemplar of student-centered instruction.

“…and that means looking for some of the best models out there. There are community colleges like Tennessee’s Cleveland State that are redesigning remedial math courses and boosting not only student achievement but also graduation rates. And we ought to make a significant investment to help other states pick up on some of these models.”
– President Barack Obama (University of Texas at Austin speech, 2010)

Our “high tech – high touch” individualized student approach was adapted for delivery in high schools in order to bring all students up to college-readiness in mathematics. This earned Cleveland State a second national kudo – the first ever Future’s Assembly Legacy Award in 2015. In addition, the college led the state of Tennessee in the adoption of a co-requisite model for delivering remedial writing instruction in tandem with college-level courses. The result has been a dramatic increase in student success and completion of key college-level courses in the first year of study.

Upon close review of student progress, however, the college discovered that despite our laudable innovations, our students were not persisting to graduation at the rates necessary to achieve the state’s Drive to 55 goals. As Dr. Seymour observed, “We’ve been tinkering at the edges of student experience and haven’t yet transformed the entire system that determines successful outcomes for all students.” In its first two AACC Pathways Institutes, teams of college faculty, staff and administrators dug deeply into data about student performance and the relationship to program choice, college processes and support services.

What we learned was surprising.

While the college offers over 109 different degrees and certificates, most students who graduate will complete one of only 12. Students also change majors frequently, as often as every semester and some as many as 6 times before settling on a program. The more often a student changes major, the less likely they are to complete that degree in a timely fashion, and the more likely to leave without a degree. At the same time, even with the limited number of credits permitted for each degree (most CSCC degrees require no more than 60 credits to complete) many students take a whole year’s worth of extra courses that do not apply to the degree program in which they graduate. That can be expensive for students, many of whom rely on financial aid, and can lead to students running out of aid before they’ve completed their course of study.

Experts like Thomas Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars and Davis Jenkins of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College Columbia University have studied Cleveland State and other community colleges to identify the sources of these results. They contend in their 2015 book “Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success,” that in most community colleges, students, many of them first-generation attendees, struggle to navigate a complex and often confusing array of programs, courses and support services. They find it difficult to clearly see how to achieve their end goals of discovering and preparing for a particular career. Many students, unable to see a path through all this, get frustrated and drop out. Others stumble along, accruing excess credits, racking up debt or running out of financial aid. According to what we have learned, the preponderance of choices available at community colleges, which are the result of our open access mission and well-intended policies, have undermined student success. The writers assert that guided pathways should replace the “cafeteria-style,” self-serve approach that characterizes community colleges like Cleveland State.

What this guided pathways approach offers is structure that directs a student from the start of an academic career to the awarding of an associate degree or transfer to a four-year college. As students enroll, they select a Career Community that serves as a meta-major, a broad field of study, in which they see themselves. Cleveland State has identified six of these communities which effectively group degrees and certificates with similar career characteristics: Business, Arts and Humanities, Health, Social Sciences, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and Education. Each community has a unique set of first experiences that expose student to the various degree pathways so they can identify and then focus on what interests them and ideally, for which they have demonstrated aptitude.

“There is a myth out there that students enjoy wandering,” said Rob Johnstone, president and founder of the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement. “They want direction.” Cleveland State is transforming itself in order to provide that direction for students through meaningful, personal interactions with academic advisors, success coaches, and tutors who team up with the faculty to surround students with support throughout their college experience. Additional changes are occurring throughout the college including the reorganization of personnel to better correspond to a student-centered pathways approach as well as the renovation of the Cleveland campus so that it better meets the needs of students who are navigating it for the first time. “We have applied the concept of “flipping the classroom” to improve student learning,” President Seymour declares. “Now we need to “flip the college” to improve student success. This work will result in the transformation of Cleveland State from a good, solid college to one that is great and exemplary in its service to students and community.”