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Guest commentary: For success, persistence matters

December 7, 2016

A core component of community colleges is open access, which means at Heartland Community College we accept anyone who wants to learn. This gives us a population of students who have a wide variety of readiness levels, needs and goals.

For some, it takes extra determination to finish what they set out to accomplish. After enrolling, family obligations, learning issues or financial challenges can hinder progress. At Heartland, our top priority is ensuring students persist and ultimately succeed. We offer deeply intentional supports like special library services, financial aid, scholarships, tutoring, counseling, our fitness center and more. Each is a different way to foster student persistence.

As we continue improving our services at Heartland, it’s essential we examine which supports matter and contribute most to student success.

We first have to know what each student hopes to accomplish. When applying at Heartland, we ask students to indicate their intent, such as whether they are working towards a degree or simply want to take one or two classes. They can also volunteer information such as being a first generation college student or someone transitioning out of the workforce. These insights give us data to target our support efforts and ensure students know all the resources available to them.

While enrolled, students continue to get personalized support. We closely monitor academic progress. If at-risk students are identified, our advisors quickly communicate and connect them with appropriate resources to help persist through challenges.

Data also provides insight on academic areas. Programs are reviewed every five years. Information gathered helps us identify success rates in courses and determine whether we need to change a course sequence or add a component to a prerequisite class so students enter the next course better prepared. Data recently indicated our online courses had a higher withdrawal rate. To ensure stronger persistence levels, more information was provided to students prior to enrollment so they could determine if online learning was a good fit for them as a learner.

Our intentional efforts are paying off. Since fall 2013, Heartland has seen a steady increase of students persisting from fall to spring - returning to school and continuing progress towards their goal. It’s exactly the outcome we hope for because when our students succeed, the community benefits.

Rob Widmer is the president of Heartland Community College and occasionally contributes guest commentaries for The Pantagraph. This commentary was published on 11/27/2016.

Written by: Rob Widmer