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Wallace-Dothan Finalist in AACC Awards of Excellence

5/16/2016

Dothan, Ala.Wallace Community College-Dothan (WCCD) was recognized at the American Association of Community College (AACC) national convention as one of three Awards of Excellence finalists in the nation in the Faculty Innovation category. The convention was held April 9-12 in Chicago, IL. The College was honored for its faculty-led I-CAN (Improvement, Constant And Never-ending) initiative that has increased student completion and success rates. In addition to the award, an overview of the I-CAN initiative was also presented at the convention by Tony Holland, WCC dean of instruction and Dr. Ashli Wilkins, WCC dean of Institutional Services and Community Development.

The initiative addresses student success in academic coursework by targeting transformational change at the classroom level. “National validation from the AACC is one of the most prestigious compliments a group of faculty can receive, especially when it is in the area of faculty innovation,” commented Dr. Linda C. Young, WCCD President. Faculty at WCCD have worked to redesign courses and teaching strategies which lead to deeper learning and more relevant instruction, with positive results at little or no cost. The objective is to produce a more critically thinking learner who is better able to apply effective communication and problem solving skills.

 

The process began in 2007 in the science division when analysis revealed that there was a high withdrawal rate for biological sciences, a large gap in positive student perceptions among instructors, and a low attendance rate, which was noted by faculty as the number one problem. The division responded with simple but widespread strategies to improve student perceptions of the learning environment and provide early interventions and frequent assessments.

One year after inception, and with no additional funding, there was a 31% increase in the number of students attending class, over 400% increase in the number of students prepared for class, and a 47% increase in the number of successful students (C or higher) in all biology courses. Strategies included standardized unit objectives, course evaluations, instructor-made lecture/tutorial videos available online, and limiting lectures to no more than 20 minutes at a time followed by an engagement activity. Students come to class more prepared by watching lectures before class and remain engaged during class with content-related activities.

“The common goal of these strategies is to provide a more active learning-centered environment with increased student-student and faculty-student interactions which naturally promotes the acquisition of soft life skills” said Tony Holland, WCCD dean of instruction. “Using early and intrusive interventions with the most at-risk students has been an extremely successful strategy.”

By 2012 the system was so successful that it was implemented in the top ten enrollment courses. By spring 2013, these courses experienced a 21.2% increase in course success compared to spring 2011. In addition, class attendance increased and withdrawal rates decreased 39% for these top ten courses during this same time period.

And the I-CAN initiative has proven that it is scalable. Since migrating from the science division to the top ten enrollment classes, the developmental courses were also absorbed by the initiative. Over 300 more developmental students succeeded in their developmental courses the year after implementation than the year prior to I-CAN. The College opened a math lab in 2012 which houses a re-designed, self-paced program that uses special software to achieve content mastery. Developmental students can take entry-level courses to assure success in Math 100, the entry-level college math course. Completion rates for Math 100 have increase by 41 percent since the math lab opened. Most recently, the Alabama Association for Developmental Education recognized WCCD’s developmental math program which led to a presentation this past month at the AACC national convention by David Cobb and Carla Cribbs of the developmental studies division.

The changes have had a positive effect on achievement gaps for minority students. Between fall 2011 and fall 2013, low-income (Pell Grant eligible) students experienced over three times more improvement than higher-income minority students, resulting in closure of over three-fourths of the achievement gap between the two groups in these top ten enrollment courses. The gap between low- and high-income students was completely closed in developmental courses during this same time period. This closing of achievement gaps has resulted in higher retention rates, which means fewer students are dropping out of school.

The first year following implementation of I-CAN in 2012 saw a 16% increase in the fall-to-fall retention rate. In fact, WCCD’s credit enrollment grew by 3.5% in the 2013-2014 school year, the largest increase in community colleges in Alabama, according to Community College Week. Recent data also shows a 67.2% increase in the number of AA/AS degrees conferred in 2014-15 compared to 2012-11. “After three years of observing the I-CAN initiative in practice, I can truthfully say that I have never witnessed such a dramatic impact on the entire culture of an institution,” said Lynn Bell, dean of business affairs and 35-year employee in the education field.

“For some time I have been following the extraordinary work of Wallace Community College in addressing issues of student success. What this college has accomplished is a case study of transformational change that is powerful, innovative, inexpensive, and can be replicated in hundreds of other community colleges,” said Terry O’Banion in his recommendation for the Awards of Excellence. Dr. O’Banion is the President Emeritus, League For Innovation in the Community College & Chair of the Graduate Faculty of National American University, as well as  one of the most recognized and esteemed leaders of student development in higher education in the U.S.  

WCCD continues to use the process to assure constant improvement based on transparency in data and the flexibility to make innovative instructional changes. The collaboration and buy-in between departments are the connectors that make the initiative successful. “The I-CAN initiative is now WE-CAN, and is evidence of the uncommon results expected when a group of faculty make an uncommon commitment to a common goal of student learning and total student development” said Holland. And he is spreading the word, as the demand for more information has resulted in speaking engagements in South Carolina,  a consortium of community colleges in Michigan, last year’s League For Innovations conference in Massachusetts, and to four-year institutions at the national Gateway Courses conference in Atlanta.

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