Oregon Student Success Center
Common strategies to help students
College can be a daunting experience. It is especially challenging for rural youth, who may be entering an unknown environment unprepared. Many rural youth are first-generation college students who are encountering new experiences unfamiliar to their parents and adult members of their support system. One recent report identified three major “tripwires” that impede post-secondary success for rural students: growing up in a low-income community, the hidden costs of preparing for and applying to college, and “college and career unreadiness,” or the perception that students are not adequately prepared for the challenges of college and career.
As a first-generation college student from a town of 200 in Iowa, Elizabeth Brand knows all of this first hand. Brand has spent the last 25 years — her entire professional career — in student affairs, seeking to make the transition easier for students.
“I get it, I understand a lot of the hurdles they go through,” Brand says. “I have a passion for our students and making sure they have the supports necessary to help get through this journey.”
As the executive director of the Oregon Student Success Center, Brand has high hopes of even greater success for the state’s community college students. The Oregon Student Success Center, now in its second year, provides a mechanism for the state’s community colleges to convene learning opportunities and work together on common strategies that improve student success. The Center is housed in the Oregon Community College Association, with financial support from The Ford Family Foundation and The Oregon Community Foundation.
For example, in the wake of recent events such as school shootings and uncertainty over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), educators wanted to address ways of treating students who were feeling unsafe or vulnerable. The Center contracted with REL Northwest to create a postsecondary guide for trauma-informed education, and then convened faculty from across the state for hands-on training. Workshop materials are now available on the Center site.
“A lot of things we do in administration puts up a lot of barriers and we don’t mean to, we don’t realize it,” Brand says. The Center can help figure out what’s working and help colleges do better for students.
The Center is also helping facilitate a discussion by community college leaders about implementing multiple measures for placement, so that standardized tests are not the only way students are placed into classes. This is especially important for community college students, who may be several years out of school. Standardized tests often underplace these students, discouraging them and potentially adding terms to their community college education. With multiple measures, students are placed in college courses based on a variety of indicators, including assessments, high school courses and GPAs.
“Some colleges have fully implemented this, and we hope we can get others to make it a widespread practice across the state,” Brand says.
A major initiative coming from the Center in the near future is called Guided Pathways, which provides community college students with a clearly structured road to their academic goals. Colleges do this by redesigning their offerings to simplify students’ decisions, and offering built-in progress monitoring, feedback and support at each step along the way. Instead of a college offering 140 majors, for example, a school could condense them into five groups, with career counseling that starts when the student starts school.
This spring, five community colleges will launch Guided Pathways at their institutions, participating in a two-year educational process facilitated by the Oregon Student Success Center. Support from The Ford Family Foundation will allow colleges to participate free of charge, including a small stipend to help with expenses.
A second group of colleges will launch their Guided Pathways work in 2019, and by the end of 2021, Brand hopes to have 13 of the 17 community colleges in the state engaged.