Provost Update — September 2018

A Message from Kathleen Plinske, Executive Vice President and Provost, Osceola, Lake Nona, and Poinciana Campuses

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to serve as executive vice president and provost, a new role at the College that was created to further deepen our focus on what has always been at the center of our work: our students and their learning. I’ll plan to share monthly updates with you via this platform (and they won’t all be this long, I promise!).

At Academic Assembly, I shared data about our students’ performance and draft objectives related to our student outcomes with our faculty.  For those of you who were unable to attend Academic Assembly or who would like to see the data and objectives again, I’ve summarized the conversation below.

Bottom Line Up Front: Call to Action

All faculty and staff are invited to attend one of the upcoming forums to discuss our draft student outcomes objectives:

  • Tuesday, September 11, 2018 – Osceola Campus, Auditorium, 1 – 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday, September 18, 2018 – East Campus, Building 5, Room 112, 1 – 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday, September 25, 2018 – West Campus, Building 8, Room 111, 1 – 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, October 4, 2018 – Poinciana Campus, Room 125, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Friday, October 5, 2018 – Winter Park Campus, Rooms 225/226, 9 – 11 a.m.

If you are interested in participating in a reading circle to read and discuss a book about equity and belonging to help inform our working theories and hypotheses about our student outcomes, please sign up online by Friday, September 14, 2018.

If you are interested in learning more about our student outcomes, please download this Insight Paper. If you have questions to ask, have observations to share, or would simply like to talk about our student outcomes, please email me.

Student Outcomes: Draft Objectives

As outlined in this Insight Paper, the news about our student outcomes is mixed: while our students’ performance far surpasses those at our peer institutions and while our graduation rate has increased over the last 10 years, the five-year graduation rate for first-time-in-college (FTIC), degree-seeking students who started in Fall 2012 was 34 percent.

The increase in our graduation rate should be celebrated, and when compared with many other community colleges, a 34 percent graduation rate is actually quite high. But what about the 66 percent who did not complete the degree they intended to earn? In real numbers, the impact is staggering: if our Fall 2018 cohort performs at the same level as our Fall 2012 cohort, more than 4,000 of the students who started at Valencia last week intending to earn a degree will not graduate within five years. Can we do better? Can our students do better?

When we disaggregate our graduation rates by race and ethnicity, the news is also mixed. While the graduation rates for all races and ethnicities have increased over the last 10 years, the gaps in performance among students from diverse backgrounds continue to exist.

We know that there is no inherent, biological reason for these gaps. Instead, we share the Big Idea that anyone can learn anything under the right conditions, and our work is to identify and create the conditions that support learning for all students. We also recognize that the same set of conditions may not work equally well for all students, and so our challenge is to work alongside our students to tune the conditions at our campuses and within our classrooms to best support student learning and success.

After working at Valencia for eight years, I’ve seen the power of the College coming together around a common goal. From significantly increasing the college-going rate in our service district, to completely transforming the New Student Experience, to opening campuses to serve the communities who need us the most, when we work toward a shared purpose, there’s hardly anything we can’t accomplish together. In our College Impact Plan, we articulated the goal of reducing the gaps in performance among students from diverse backgrounds. This summer, in order to build a common understanding of that goal, our Executive Council identified three objectives related to the goal:

  1. By 2025, the five-year graduation rate for FTIC, degree-seeking students of all races and ethnicities will exceed 50 percent.
  2. By 2021, 75 percent of FTIC, degree-seeking students will successfully complete 15 credit hours within two years.
  3. By 2023, 50 percent of FTIC, degree-seeking students will successfully complete all five of their first five classes at Valencia.

Draft Objective 1:

It is imperative that we strive to create the conditions so that at least half of our students complete the degree they intend to earn. While this may seem like an aspirational “stretch goal,” it may help to think of increases in percentages in terms of actual numbers. For example, of the students who started in Fall 2012, if 404 more Hispanic students had graduated within five years, the graduation rate for Hispanic students would have been above 50 percent. If 364 additional black or African-American students had graduated within five years, the graduation rate for black or African American students would have been above 50 percent. And if 235 additional Caucasian students would have graduated within five years, the graduation rate for Caucasian students would have been above 50 percent. Collectively, across our eight campuses, do you believe that we could create the conditions so that 404 more Hispanic students, for example, could have completed their goal of earning a degree?  I believe that we can.

In response to this objective, I have received several questions about the proportion of students who transfer without graduating from Valencia. According to data reports from Achieving the Dream (included in page 7 of the Insight Paper), about 20 percent of students transfer to a different institution without having completed a degree, and many of those students transfer to other state colleges (like Seminole State and Polk State, which are classified as four-year institutions because they award baccalaureate degrees). However, about 30 percent of our students stop attending Valencia and don’t enroll in any other postsecondary institution.

Draft Objective 2:

Because 2025 is a long way off, it will be helpful to set interim measures to serve as mileposts along the way to help us know if we are making good progress toward our objective of increasing our students’ graduation rates.  Students’ accumulation of 15 college-level credit hours within five years is strongly correlated with completion, and as graduation rates increase, we should expect the percentage of students who successfully complete 15 college-level credit hours within two years to also increase.

The good news is that this measure of academic momentum has been trending upward; we should expect to see it reach 75 percent for the cohort of FTIC, degree-seeking students who begin in Fall 2021.

Draft Objective 3:

Students’ success in their first five course attempts at Valencia is a powerful predictor of graduation. In fact, students who successfully complete all five of their first five courses have nearly double the graduation rate of students who have just one unsuccessful attempt in their first five.

As we work to increase our students’ graduation rate, we should also expect to see an increase in the proportion of students who successfully complete all five of their first course attempts.

While this proportion has fluctuated between 35-45 percent over the last 10 years, we should expect more than 50 percent of the degree-seeking, FTIC students who start in Fall 2023 to successfully complete all five of their first five course attempts.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we increase students’ success in their first five course attempts by reducing rigor. Reducing rigor in our front door courses would mean that our students would be less prepared later in their academic trajectories, thus breaking the link between success in first five and completion. In fact, success in first five is a powerful predictor of graduation in large part because of the rigor of our front door courses.  Students who are successful in their first five courses demonstrate early in their academic trajectories the behaviors and skills that lead to success later on, and that early success likely creates a cascade effect resulting in future success. Building upon our Big Idea of Start Right, how might we create the conditions so that a larger proportion of students experience this critical early success?

What’s Next?

This month, we’ll host a number of forums across our campuses to discuss the draft objectives. We’re looking for your input and feedback, so please plan to attend as your schedule allows — all faculty and staff are invited to attend:

  • Tuesday, September 11, 2018 – Osceola Campus, Auditorium, 1 – 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday, September 18, 2018 – East Campus, Building 5, Room 112, 1 – 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday, September 25, 2018 – West Campus, Building 8, Room 111, 1 – 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, October 4, 2018 – Poinciana Campus, Room 125, 1 – 3 p.m.
  • Friday, October 5, 2018 – Winter Park Campus, Rooms 225/226, 9 – 11 a.m.

After the input and feedback is synthesized and necessary edits are made to the draft objectives, we will ask Faculty Council to formally consider and endorse the objectives this fall.

In the meantime, we’ll be convening reading circles to discuss three books about equity and belonging that will help inform our working theories and hypotheses related to our student outcomes: Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can DoDeep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them; and Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism, and Social Marginalization. To participate in a reading circle, please complete this brief online survey to select your preferred circle and location.

We’ll also begin work this fall to collect feedback from our students about their experiences at Valencia. Just as we did at Academic Assembly, it will be helpful to ask our current students about the conditions that they believe have supported their learning and success at Valencia, and also ask them about their peers who may not have experienced conditions that worked for them. We will also work to connect with students who have left Valencia to better understand their reasons for doing so.

Later this fall we’ll continue our discussions of working theories and hypotheses related to our student outcomes, and in spring we’ll work together to identify the most promising strategies to implement in an effort to lift our students’ performance at Valencia.

Student Spotlight

The closing words at Academic Assembly came from our 2018 Distinguished Graduate, Jehojada Merilan. I encourage you to listen to Jehojada share how one conversation with his New Student Experience Professor, Marsha Butler, changed his outlook and perspective, setting the stage for his amazing journey at Valencia.

Research suggests that creating a sense of belonging on our campuses can have a positive effect on academic achievement, and each of us has an important role to play in helping our students feel like they belong at Valencia. As evidenced by Jehojada’s experience, don’t underestimate the potential impact of a single conversation with a student — it could lead that student to recognize his or her unlimited potential.

I welcome your thoughts, comments, questions, suggestions, and feedback.  Please feel free to reach out directly to me at kplinske@valenciacollege.edu.

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