JCC tries to improve graduation rate

pseligson@newsobserver.comMay 20, 2014 

Amid low graduation rates and a curriculum change, Johnston Community College is trying to help students help themselves.

The college is asking students to sign the “Agree 2 Degree” pledge, promising to not leave JCC without a degree, diploma or certificate. The new program is in response to low graduation and transfer rates and to a state-mandated change in how community college students prepare to transfer to four-year schools.

In 2010, 601 new students started at JCC in pursuit of an associate’s degree, diploma or certificate. By year three, only 29 percent had graduated and another 36 percent had transferred to a four-year school or to another community college. The remaining students had either dropped out or were still enrolled at JCC.

“It’s not pretty, but that’s what we’re trying to improve,” said Dee Dee Daughtry, vice president of instruction at JCC.

Daughter especially wants to raise the percentage of students transferring to a four-year school after earning an associate’s degree from JCC. “There is a disconnect somewhere down the line,” she said. “They were strong enough students to make it through a two-year degree and get the college-transferable classes that they really need, but they were not going.”

The other reason for the new program is the change in how community colleges prepare their students to transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

The state’s community colleges and public universities have long had an agreement requiring universities to accept community college credits. But that didn’t mean a community college student wanting to major in business at a university had taken the right classes while in community college. As a result, after enrolling in a four-year school, he could have found himself taking classes he should have taken in community college.

Under the change, which takes effect this fall, students with four-year degrees in mind will take community college classes that will count specifically toward those degrees.

The agreement between the community colleges and universities was long overdue for an update, Daughtry said. “There was less and less of a guarantee that a student ... here would actually have that two years out of the way when they got to the university,” she said. “So it’s the guarantee that’s back in place.”

The state-mandated change meant JCC had to retool its college-transfer curriculum, and officials decided to go ahead and revamp all curricula in the process. About half of all JCC students are there for a certification or a work credential. In response, JCC asked business owners what specific classes applicants should have under their belts.

For instance, a student studying to be a paralegal might have had to take a humanities elective, said Dawn Dixon, dean of art, sciences and learning resources. Now, their class option will be a specific humanities credit such as ethics. “Before, students might say, ‘I’ll just take art appreciation,’” Dixon said.

JCC encourages already-enrolled students to take classes under the new agreement, but only incoming freshmen will have to do so.

Agree 2 Degree

Agree 2 Degree, or A2D, is a pledge by students to do five things:

•  To not leave JCC without a degree, diploma or certificate.

•  Pass their classes.

•  Check their email.

•  Reach out to instructors and academic advisers if they have trouble in class.

•  Participate fully in classes and the college experience.

Also, JCC is now requiring all students to attend orientation, Dixon said. The A2D pledge is for every person who works at JCC. All staff, from the cafeteria worker to the instructor, is recommitting to helping students earn a credential of some kind, she said.

“We’re completely rebuilding how we orient our students before they start school here and really creating a much stronger network of support,” Dixon said.

To help students keep the pledge, JCC has added more support programs for students and increased resources in academic advising.

The A2D pledge drive kicked off at JCC’s Spring Fling on April 23. While wandering between giant inflatables, group dances and free food, students stopped by one station to sign the pledge and get a free T-shirt.

Student body president Rudolph Raynor signed the pledge with JCC president David Johnson. Raynor loves A2D and the new curriculum changes. “It narrows down your track,” he said. “Now you’re on a direct track from start to finish.”

Student Kay Austin of Four Oaks came to JCC by way of Florida. “The pledge is great,” she said. “It gives us something to work toward.”

First-semester student Kiana Lucas said signing the pledge is reassuring. “Everybody who comes here is going to succeed and not drop out,” she said.

Knowing she has people she can turn to for help is important, Lucas added. “I found out this semester that you can’t do it yourself,” she said. “You have to ask for help.”

Kimberlynn Lawler of Clayton transferred to JCC from Wake Technical Community College. At Wake Tech, she felt like no one cared if she finished her degree. But at JCC, she feels like “everybody here wants to make sure you succeed,” she said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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