Breaking Down Barriers to Success

I find myself speaking and writing quite a bit lately about Lorain County Community College’s strategic plan, Vision 2020, and that is because I am fully committed to guiding this institution on a path to successfully achieving this vision. When I accepted the presidency position, I also accepted the charge to enable LCCC to continue forging ahead with Vision 2020 as our guide. Literally thousands of voices from our community helped create this vision and I believe it has our College focused on the right priorities – those most needed by our community and our campus.

Vision 2020’s first strategic priority is to drive student completion for academic and career success. “Student completion” has become quite a buzzword within the higher-academic world, and this is because research has emerged that demonstrates that while community college enrollment numbers remain steady, graduation rates are low. As a way to counter this, community colleges across the country are placing a focus on improving what we refer to as “student completion” rates – essentially making sure students are earning the degree they are striving for when they first enroll. This is why our first strategic priority is focused on this specific area.

First and foremost, we are here to educate, but we also need to be here for our students to help them finish what they set out to do when they first step onto our campus. Seventy percent of our student population is enrolled part time, and many are non-traditional students – meaning they are not coming to us straight out of high school but at a later, and often more complicated life stage. Our students face challenges such as a lack of affordable child care, lack of reliable transportation, and an overall lack of resources to provide for their families. Many are balancing jobs with family commitments and school, and unfortunately school often becomes the last priority.

At LCCC, we are working to change this by addressing these barriers in order to help our students be successful. One program focused on this area recently received statewide recognition – SAIL, Students Accelerated in Learning, is modeled after a program called ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) that was implemented at the City University of New York (CUNY). LCCC was selected to pilot this program, along with three other community colleges in Ohio in partnership with MDRC, a national nonprofit education and social policy organization, and funded by a grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation (Madison, Wisconsin), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping make college a reality.  The purpose of the pilot program was to determine if the CUNY model was transferable to community colleges in other parts of the country.

The SAIL program launched in 2015 and seeks to improve student success by addressing and removing barriers for low-income, first-time, full-time college students who are seeking to earn a degree. Students who were chosen to participate in the program received personalized advising and career planning advice, sponsored tuition, food gift cards, textbook vouchers and were required to take advantage of tutoring services offered by the college.

I was pleased to join Cynthia Arredondo, advisor, left; and students Dorisa Johnson and Anastacia Novosielski
I was proud to discuss the success of LCCC’s SAIL program in Columbus along with LCCC advisor Cynthia Arredondo, left; students Dorisa Johnson and Anastacia Novosielski.

The results thus far are promising and a few weeks ago I was invited to Columbus to attend a forum hosted by the Ohio Department of Higher Education to discuss SAIL’s success. One of our student advisors, Cynthia Arredondo, and students Dorisa Johnson and Anastacia Novosielski joined me and shared their personal experiences with the program. To date, 344 students have earned more college credit with higher grade point averages while continuing to make progress toward their degrees at a faster rate compared to a control group.

While SAIL’s metrics indicate we are on the right track, it is the personal stories of impact that are most remarkable. Last spring, we graduated the first three SAIL participants and all of them have gone on to pursue advanced degrees – two of which are now attending our University Partnership! Donna Atanasova was one of these graduates and SAIL could not have come at a better time for her. She came to LCCC after leaving her job of 21 years looking to earn a degree, but when she first enrolled at LCCC her grade point average was only 1.62. Thanks to SAIL, she brought that up to a 3.7 and became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. This semester she is a University Partnership student pursing her bachelor’s degree in accounting with Hiram College – right here on our campus. Read Donna’s Great Grad story from Commencement 2016.

Donna, right, holds flowers while being congratulated by her husband following LCCC's 2016 Commencement ceremony.
Donna and her husband, Zdravko Atanasov, following the LCCC 2016 Commencement ceremony.

Even though all of our students come to us with their own unique set of challenges, it is our job as an institution committed to providing access to higher education to find innovative ways to create pathways to success. For some students like Donna, the personalized advising and tutoring can make all the difference. For other students like Nacho, whose story I shared in this blog, help with transportation was all it took to set him up for success. We recognize that each student’s situation is different and by prioritizing this effort through Vision 2020, I am confident we can continue to find solutions to removing these barriers – because every student’s dream matters.