The alarm has been sounded. America, the world's super-power, is teetering at a precipice. Once boasting the world's highest proportion of college graduates, America is falling behind in educational attainment and skills, and thus losing economic advantage. Experts theorize: the country can continue its slide, perhaps becoming a second or even third tier power, or it can redefine itself to meet the changing global economy.
With that realization, the nation now looks with a renewed interest to community colleges for workforce development and for leveling the playing field in bringing American education back to global competitiveness. A myriad of new initiatives have emerged focusing on improving educational outcomes. Almost all aspire to increase graduation rates across the country. The question is, how?
It is well established that most community college students enter college under-prepared. Nationally, between 60 and 80 percent of community college students require developmental education to succeed in college-level classes. But fewer than 60 percent of those students complete these classes. Increasing the number of students who matriculate from developmental to college-level classes would logically increase the number of students who continue on to earn an associate degree.
Enter the Global Skills for College Completion project (GSCC), sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The League for Innovation in the Community College, Knowledge in the Public Interest, and LaGuardia Community College in New York. GSCC is not the first initiative to attempt to increase success rates of developmental students; Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count (AtD), a Lumina Foundation funded initiative, is now in its fifth year and has worked with over a hundred colleges across the nation, and the Developmental Education Initiative, a Gates Foundation and MDC, Inc. initiative formed last year, is working with 15 American community colleges. These are only two of many.
Like AtD, the Developmental Education Initiative and others, GSCC determines to increase the pass rate of community college students in developmental math and writing. In fact, it plans an increase of up to 80 percent. To accomplish this, GSCC has identified 26 of the highest performing basic skills faculty from the more than 1,200 community colleges across the country to come together to change the way developmental education is taught.
Throughout all this, one small community college in rural Virginia has been making its mark. Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) in Martinsville, already recognized nationally in academic circles as one of the leaders in collaborative learning, has been selected as only one of 13 colleges in 16 states across the country to participate in the GSCC project.
Having served as a pilot college for the AtD initiative in 2004, PHCC went on to become a “leader college” in AtD and implemented a program of collaborative learning, training faculty who have since become "train the trainers" for numerous other community colleges across the country. Subsequently, the college was tapped for the DEI initiative mentioned above, and is building upon its successes with the AtD grant.
GSCC brings together faculty who will work to identify and integrate best practices that sharply improve student outcomes. Over a two-year period of research and action, a new pedagogy and curriculum will be created, and ultimately a national professional development and certification program will be developed which validates faculty's ability to be effective in basic skills classrooms. The goal, according to GSCC, is to change the face of American education.
Two faculty members from PHCC will participate in this breakthrough faculty-driven process. Bronte' Miller, Associate Professor of Developmental Mathematics, and Michelle Zollars, Associate Professor of Developmental English, will share innovations with the other 24 faculty in person and remotely using technology. Both are veteran developmental educators who were identified because of their successes in the classroom. The significance of the project has been lost on neither.
"Students who enter college underprepared require more than the acquisition of basic skills knowledge. They need to develop thinking and reasoning skills, they need to gain a sense of competence and confidence in their abilities, and they need the motivation and courage to take the next step. Good developmental education addresses all of these needs," Miller said. "Throughout my 18 year career, PHCC has made the success of our students its top priority. It's nice to see these efforts recognized on a national stage."
Zollars echoes the sentiment of pride in the college and humility about being tapped as a participant. "Am I surprised that I was chosen to be a part of this elite group? Absolutely. Am I surprised that Patrick Henry Community College is represented? Absolutely not! That may seem like a paradox. However, PHCC is one of the leaders in developmental education across the country, and LaGuardia Community College, who sponsors the project, along with the League for Innovation in the Community College and Knowledge in the Public Interest, are aware of PHCC's reputation in this field."