Pasadena and Santa Barbara City Colleges are recipients of the 2012 Chancellor’s Student Success Award for their programs to support first-year and underserved students in community college.

“These are the types of initiatives our Student Success Task Force determined were extremely important in achieving equity and helping a greater number of students reach their educational goals,” said Community College Chancellor Brice Harris in a written statement.

First Year Pathways builds collaboration to encouarge students to stick with the program. Courtesy of Pasadena City College (click to enlarge.)

First Year Pathways builds collaboration to encourage students to stick with the program. Courtesy of Pasadena City College. (Click to enlarge)

More than 800 new students are enrolled in the First Year Pathways program at Pasadena City College. Counselors in the program are available daily and are trained to help students identify and reach their academic goals in a reasonable amount of time, and to navigate the often complicated first year of college. Only 35 percent of the approximately 37,000 students at the college earn an Associate’s Degree, transfer to a four-year college or earn a Career Technical Education certificate after six years.

First Year Pathways seeks to reverse that trend by recruiting students while they are seniors in high school. They are guaranteed placement in their required courses, which have had huge waiting lists in recent years as budget cuts forced community colleges to reduce classes.

In return, the students commit to attending a summer orientation and a two-week, free summer math bootcamp; taking a minimum of 12 units in the fall and spring semesters of their first year – including math and English; enrolling in a student success course in the fall; and meeting regularly with a counselor, coach and tutor.

Brock Klein, director of the program, said it’s hard to calculate the exact cost of the program because it shares existing campus resources and services whenever possible, but estimates that it’s about $250 per student. The program receives funding from a federal grant and a Pasadena City College grant.

Since it’s so new, Klein said they only have qualitative data so far. That data indicates that, compared with other first-year students, those in the Pathways program are more engaged with faculty and other students, and are more involved in campus activities.

Accelerated remedial

Under normal circumstances, students whose college placement exam scores put them two levels below college-level work would need at least two semesters of developmental, or remedial, classes to catch up. Santa Barbara City College is among a growing number of California community colleges speeding up that sequence.

Express to Success student, Cindy, credits the program with guiding her to graduation from Santa Barbara City College. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara City College (click to enlarge).

Express to Success student Cindy credits the program with guiding her to graduation from Santa Barbara City College. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara City College. (Click to enlarge)

Students in the campus’s Express to Success program take accelerated remedial classes, completing two math classes in one semester, in order to move quickly into the college classes that will lead toward a degree, certificate or transfer to a four-year college.

That’s critical because few students enrolled in developmental classes make it to college-level courses.  About 44 percent of students in developmental reading and 31 percent in developmental math complete the sequence of classes they need, according to a report from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. Students who begin three levels below college level almost never get through the courses.

As in the Pasadena City College program, Express to Success counselors receive special training, and students have dedicated tutors. Teachers create a learning community by forming study groups and by having students review each other’s work. By bonding with each other, students are more likely to stick with the program.

Students in the program must sign an agreement to commit to the program full-time for one semester, earn a C or better and participate in a summer orientation program.

“The theory is that you set the standards and you set the expectations and you provide the steps to meet them,” said English composition professor Kimberly Monda in an interview on the program’s website. “And so far I do feel that I’m seeing that.”

Students in the Express program who take the double developmental math classes in one semester are nearly twice as likely to pass as remedial students who take them in two successive semesters, by a rate of about 68 percent to 31 percent, according to the college’s evaluation of the program.

“Being in this program has helped me out a lot; it has built my confidence, and I was extremely successful,” said a graduate named Cindy in a testimonial in a college video on the program.


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