Community College Partner Conference VII Albright College, Reading, PA October 20, College On-Ramps for Adult Students

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1 Community College Partner Conference VII Albright College, Reading, PA October 20, 2015 College On-Ramps for Adult Students Good morning. I want to thank Dr. McMillan for this opportunity for my colleagues and me to be a part of this wonderful conference at Albright College today. I speak to you today about a facet of higher education that, because of my own personal experience, is very close to my heart. Although I address you today as the fifth president of Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC), more importantly, I also address you as a successful nontraditional student and lifelong learner. Let me begin by saying that for traditional 18- to 21-year old students the road to college and career is relatively clear. Since the early 20th century, traditional students have applied to colleges of their choice, usually in their junior year; then been offered admission; graduated from high school; chosen their college if they applied to more than one; and then gone on to live and study at a residential four-year college. Faculty and staff at both private and public colleges and universities were geared to teaching and supporting traditional 18- to 21-year olds who were single, who were not employed, and who could focus 100 percent on their studies and their college experience. Of course, this model excluded a great many young people whose families did not have the resources to pay for a four-year residential experience. Many of these young people entered trade apprenticeships or one of the plentiful entry-level manufacturing jobs. Young women could get jobs at the local silk mills and clothing manufacturers, or attend trade schools, or get married right out of high school. When I graduated from high school, I decided to have a career, as we said then, to fall back on, in an era when women were still thought to be primarily wives and mothers. I grew up in a rural area with parents who were very hard working, however, like many others at that time, they did not graduate high school. For me, when choosing a college, applying for financial aid, and registering for courses, I was on my own. I

2 chose to attend a for- profit two year business school, where the people were very helpful in helping me navigate all of this information. I earned an Associate degree in paralegal studies, met my future husband, got married, and followed him to the Lehigh Valley where he began his career at Western Electric. I interviewed with the first president of LCCC, Dr. John Berrier, for a secretarial position. I told him that I only planned to stay for one year because I wanted to continue my education and then work in business and he agreed. That turned out to be easier said than done because of life circumstances. A few years went by and I continued working as a secretary; my husband and I bought a home, and we had our first child. I applied to Cedar Crest College in Allentown and was thrilled when I was offered admission. However, when I went to register for classes, I was suddenly so confused about the process and what I was supposed to do, that I just gave up and left. Even though I was working in higher education at LCCC, registering for a college class proved to be a very daunting experience. After thinking it over for several months and steeling myself, I went back to try again. This time, I ran into a faculty member who took the time to introduce herself and then walk me through the registration process. She continued to be my guide at Cedar Crest College until I was comfortable and thriving in my studies. However, I knew I could always call her if I had questions. This faculty member proved to be my on-ramp to my success as a nontraditional undergraduate student on what I refer to as the superhighway to academic achievement and ultimately a better career. In higher education, we talk a great deal about career pathways, but my way through college was more like a superhighway, with on-ramps, off-ramps, construction zones, and a few speed bumps. I believe my experience is representative of many of our students today. There are evidence-based best practices that I believe enable our nontraditional students to successfully navigate their college experience, persist, and graduate. We have learned a lot of things about adult students and nontraditional learners. Research-based best practices have provided us with a much better roadmap for adult learners than existed when I returned to school. 2

3 I am sure many of you have seen the 2012 study of best practices, published by The Center for Community College Engagement and produced with support from the Gates and Lumina Foundations. It is entitled, A Matter of Degrees: Promising Practices for Community College Student Success. The focus of these practices for the adult learner is to promote high levels of: 1) learning, 2) engagement, and 3) achievement. Among the practices highlighted in this study are a) orientation, b) registration, and c) learning communities. According to several important studies conducted over the past 30 years, nontraditional students of all readiness levels benefit greatly from some type of orientation to college. Orientation can be something as simple as helping students to find their way around campus, or helping them to understand the registration process. Or, orientations can be more formal, full-semester courses conducted with groups of students and their instructors. What research has shown is that some type of orientation for adult learners is actually a better predictor of persistence on the college superhighway than their grade point average or their SAT scores. At LCCC, we offer a student orientation for all first-time freshman students where they learn about the resources that support student success. This is particularly important for new adult learners. During orientation, first-time students meet with other new students and with our trained, student peer mentors who help guide all new students get on this college on-ramp. Mentors ensure that new students feel comfortable and understand, what is for them, an entirely new experience. In addition, new students receive important information about student life, LCCC technology, academic policies, and their rights and responsibilities as a LCCC student. They also receive their class schedules for their first semester and meet with our advisors to make any course changes. Lastly, LCCC offers a parent/family orientation concurrently with the new student orientation. Not only does this provide parents, spouses, and other family members with information about financial aid, student services, and other resources, it also welcomes the new student s family to the college experience and helps them to be as supportive as possible. Again, many studies have shown that getting families onboard increases the nontraditional student s chances for success. 3

4 Just as important as orientation is registration, the road hazard that I encountered back in Once again, research has shown that registration can be a major challenge for new nontraditional students, and that it is important that students don t feel abandoned in or confused by the process. Today, new students register at LCCC with one-on-one support from our academic advisors, and all students have the ability to register and view their records via our online student portal. Clarity, ease of use for online users, and ready personal support has made course planning and registration no longer a mysterious rite of passage on the road to college success, but an on-ramp to new achievements that really works. Among the most promising best practices for all college students is the concept of the learning community, where two or more courses are linked and a cohesive cohort of students progress together. Programs such as nursing have long demonstrated high rates of success because of the cohort model. Students learn from each other, support one another, and engage with the subject matter in ways that traditional courses can t accommodate. Course instructors form a teaching team and coordinate their materials and assignments around unifying themes or problems. Learning Communities are offered not just for honors students but also for students who need developmental help with writing and/or mathematics. Learning communities work especially well for adult learners because they provide a relevant theme or problem for them to work on; and they allow students to engage with a variety of subjects while focused on a single theme. It makes learning much more like real life. These learning communities are a proven onramp that promotes the collaborative and problem solving skills today s graduates need to succeed in their careers. In conclusion, I believe the single most powerful aspect of higher education, in all of its forms, is its foundation in lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is the real superhighway that enables all of us to continue to develop, learn new ideas and skills, and evolve. The educators and philosophers upon whose ideas American higher education was built, believed deeply in the dignity and potential of each and every student, whether they are traditional or nontraditional. Every student who enters our community colleges, four-year institutions, and graduate schools has untapped talents and gifts, and unrealized potential. 4

5 Our task as educators is to ensure that all students discover their talents and gifts and use them in a way that will transform their lives and keep them on the road to success. I believe that is the primary goal of college faculty, administrators, and staff. Adult students meet us halfway to that goal. They are driven and have the will and purpose to succeed. They want to find those on-ramps to success, and they are willing to make sacrifices that go beyond tuition dollars to make it happen. Through the instruction, mentoring, and support we provide our adult learners -- whether during new student orientation, in the registration process, or in their coursework and learning communities -- they will succeed and will go on, as I have seen so many of LCCC graduates do, to have a profound, positive impact on our community, our region, and our world. Thank you so much for letting me share a little of my own experience and some of the successful practices that have made Lehigh Carbon Community College a leader among community colleges.. 5

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