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Cynthia B. Calhoun, Ed.D.

College Degree Attainment: What's in it for us?

By Cynthia B. Calhoun, Ed.D., Southwest's Executive Director of Retention and Graduation

Listed on the agendas of many corporate and public agencies is significant attention given to the relationship between economic growth and postsecondary education attainment. Nationally, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2010) seeks to assist students who desire to pursue a college degree or professional certificate in order to attain a career of value in the workplace. On the state level, the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 (Tennessee Higher Education Commission, 2010) was adopted to improve the state's workforce and economy, citing increased educational attainment as the primary need for the state. Locally, the Memphis Talent Dividend initiative (2010) holds the philosophy that education is the economic driver for generating jobs, attracting new businesses, expanding current businesses, and nurturing entrepreneurships. At the same time, achieving a college degree or certificate may serve as a remedy to societal ills, which drain the economy such as illiteracy, poverty, and crime. Memphis Talent Dividend contends that by increasing the number of college graduates by one percent over the next five years, Memphis and the region will receive a $1 billion dividend in return.

The big picture is clear—increased degree or certificate completion is correlated with a thriving economy. What is Southwest's role in the scheme of addressing the outcomes associated with each entity described above? We have the awesome responsibility and privilege to contribute to the pool of graduates who are likely to affect our city, our state, and our nation.

The charge given to the new Office of [Student] Retention and Graduation is to lead the College in transforming our campus culture into one that not only directs its energies toward increasing our enrollment, but at the same time, embraces both an intentional and collective commitment to helping students persist in courses through graduation. More specifically, the mission of the Office of Retention and Graduation is to lead the College in developing, implementing, monitoring, and assessing student retention and graduation initiatives with special emphasis directed toward, but not limited to, first-year experience, curriculum and instruction, tutoring, mentoring, and advising. An initial comprehensive plan for 2010-2011 governs the direction of the office and provides collaborative opportunities to engage all areas of the College in recommending strategies and action plans. Examples of some aspects of the comprehensive plan are described below.

Outcomes, Strategies, and Action Plans*

Advising

Critical to the success of students at Southwest is effective academic advising from the first point of contact to graduation. Advising also encompasses the development of a student/faculty relationship to assist students with social integration, which carries the same value in regard to influencing student persistence semester-to-semester. Advisortrac, an enrollment management suite, will be used to employ a more efficient means for maintaining an advising history for students.

SNAP Early Alert Program

Students Navigating their Academic Progress [SNAP] - Early intervention generated electronically is a major step for the College in establishing referrals from faculty and follow up from Academic Coaches and Student Services to meet the challenges many students face during the semester, which may lead to withdrawal or course failure.

SMARTS

Southwest Mentors Advancing Retention, Teamwork, and Success [SMARTS] - will be a faculty/staff mentoring program focused on career choice and planning. Special attention will be given to pairing mentors with students interested in the same field of study and may also be enrolled in their second year of persistence at the College.

ASC

Academic Support Centers [ASC] - are at the forefront of affecting the persistence of students with various services such as the availability of onsite and online tutoring, maintaining current textbooks, instructional media, and open computer labs. The use of Tutortrac as a reporting system will provide various reports for measuring the progress of students.

Student Welcome Centers open during the first week of classes for fall 2010, will continue to be made available to intercept students who are unsure of how to navigate the campus for office and classroom locations or who need special assistance with changing a schedule and accessing faculty.

Student-centered learning faculty workshops, offered through the Center for Faculty Development, are scheduled to assist faculty with the redesign of course facilitation, which includes student engagement methods and relevant curriculum for student learning inside and outside the classroom.

Southwest is an integral part of the platform for recruiting and providing a well-educated pool of graduates to possibly change the state of the Tennessee economy for the better. With a passion for engaging students and sometimes rescuing those on the verge of leaving before attaining any credential, we can become the flagship community college change agent contributing significantly to the well being of our institution and its surrounding citizenry.

*Removed references to outdated program.