Orientation changes stress retention piece

CCA has further expanded its successful mandatory orientation program unveiled last year as part of a national directive and study of best practices.

These additional options figure to not only bolster the acclimation process for new attendees and improve the chances of retention but foster a bond with the faculty with whom they most often are associated within their fields of study.

The changes at CCA emanated out of a key study document, “A Matter of Degrees: Promising Practices for Community College s Success,” by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) and were reinforced by President Barack Obama’s “National College Completion Agenda,” which endeavors to raise the number of postsecondary degree graduates in the U.S. to at least 55 percent by 2025.

“The focus has shifted at community colleges from one of access to one of completion,” interim VP of Student Affairs and Dean of Student Success Elena Sandoval-Lucero said.

CCA’s mandatory orientation sessions for new students went live in Spring 2012 and already have been a qualified success.

“We actually implemented an evaluation process where we could assess whether attending orientation actually impacted student learning,” Sandoval-Lucero added.

“We collected data and had a statistician analyze it and we actually were able to demonstrate in all the different areas that we want students to know about going through an orientation – registration, financial aid, degree offerings, support services offered, student life -- student learning was impacted in all areas.”

The new piece, entitled CCA Connect and running in August, was hatched to piggyback off those gains in a more specific way relating to the individual student’s course work. This portion of the orientation piece currently is optional but is designed to make admittents more engaged on campus and in the college.

Students can hear directly from faculty about their areas of expertise and discuss the secrets of success in individual programs.

Further, it’s a chance to learn more about college resources.

In addition to individual departments meeting with students, there is a general session and another for military and veterans to cover all bases.

There is much more intentionality about getting to know faculty and a demonstration of the importance of building those connections in these sessions.

“It’s an attempt to take the basic information that students are getting on how to be a student and introducing them to what it’s actually like to be a student at Community College of Aurora, the importance of getting to know your peers and others at the institution, and with the resources and services we offer,” Director of Outreach and Recruitment Kyla Doddridge said.

The comprehensive plan was hatched first with the help of a task force that included cross-campus representation from the likes of Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, the Center for Workforce Development, Grants and Planning, and Strategic Partnerships.

The overriding goal was to develop a student success plan for the college.

The research coming out of those study sessions clearly showed that higher student satisfaction, greater use of student support services, and improved retention on at-risk students were potential outcomes with mandatory orientation. That first piece at CCA now covers approximately 1,500 new students at the start of each semester, including online access.

Two sessions in a single day comprises CCA Connect within an individual’s academic home. That includes a tour of the facilities.

“We did hear from our academic colleagues that they felt like last fall and spring semesters were much easier starts than they experienced in the past because students were much more informed about what they needed to do in order to be successful,” Sandoval-Lucero said. “That’s just anecdotal, but we’re preparing, and as soon as fall data is completed, we’ll analyze and not only examine what we’ve learned in orientation but compare academic outcomes to those students that had no orientation.”



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