Tuesday, May 27, 2008

NISOD 2008 - Keynote - Access Without Support Is Not Opportunity...

The Monday morning keynote address was given by Dr. Vincent Tinto, Distinguished Professor, Syracuse University. Dr. Tinto is a leading researcher and authority on learner retention in College. To demonstrate his influence on community colleges, Dr. Walter Bumphus who introduced Dr. Tinto asked those in the audience who had read or used an if Dr. Tinto's work to stand up. Dr. Tinto received a standing ovation form the audience, well over 1000 strong.

Learner engagement and retention is an area of concern and research for me and it was great to finally get to hear Dr. Tinto speak after having read so much of his work.

The theme of his address was that Access without support is not opportunity. Simply getting learners into college isn't enough - they have to stay there and succeed. In the US access to college and university education is greater today than it has ever been, but at the same time stratification by income limits where and how people attend post-secondary education (PSE). Low income enrollment was over 60% a few years ago and is currently less than 45% - low income has become the decider of college attendance, not academic ability. At the elite colleges there is less income diversity than racial diversity. College completion rates are lower amongst low income learners - in 1995 60% of high income learners earned a BA withing six years, only 25% of low income learners earned a BA in the same amount of time.

Restructuring is needed to solve the problem:
  • Supplemental Instruction
    • Promoting success within the classroom - many low income learners only have time on campus to be in the classroom and cannot use the other facilities
    • Must meet student needs in the classroom
    • Academic supports connected to a class
    • Alingment of support activities of the class
    • One class at a time - this is how most low income learners complete their education - we need to be aware of that - it is their reality
  • Basic Skills Learning Communities
    • Students enroll in connected classes together
    • Course content is aligned
    • Academic supports are linked
    • Learning communities improve performance and retention
    • Teaching in context - Content Course - Skills Course linked"We learn better together"
Dr. Tinto spoke about SPECC - Strengthening Pre-Collegiate Education in Community Colleges, a Carnegie Foundation initiative loking at 11 California community colleges rethinking basic skills training. SPECC is looking at basic math and language skills - developmental skills needed for PSE success. There is a need to change the experience of at risk learners , and this goes beyond simply starting a retention program - the whole college experience needs to be changed.

The attainment of two and four year degrees needs to be improved - it's more than just access - access without support is not opportunity. We must support our learners - I think in general at my college we are doing a good job, but there is still room for improvement.

I found Dr. Tinto's address quite compelling - I sit on my campus retention committee and it is more than simply having a retention plan - we need to determine why we are losing learners early in their college careers - is it lack of preparation, lack of or the wrong skill sets, motivation, something else or a combination of these and other factors? Researchers like Dr. Tinto not only give us lots to think about, they point the way to improving how we deal with our learners and help enhance their college experiences. Today's college learners are the operators of tomorrow's national infrastructures - we must be better at helping them succeed at college...

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