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Voices of the Global Community

Jennifer Wimbish, President, Cedar Valley College, Dallas County Community College District

As we move into the 21st century, we find ourselves in a time when our educational system is plagued with a high number of dropouts and many students who complete college lack important skill sets. We also know that the U.S. is falling behind other countries in developing the workforce needed to sustain our communities. As higher education professionals, we must commit to implementing programs that focus on student learning outcomes.

Stating the case to focus on student learning outcomes. When Terry O' Bannion wrote the book, A Learning College for the 21st Century, he built a case for moving to colleges that focus on learning as a measurement of student success (O'Bannion, 1997). The two statements below mentioned in his book convinced me that educators must be committed to student learning outcomes:

The National Adult Literacy Survey, the largest effort of its type, showed about one-half of four year graduates were unable to demonstrate intermediate levels of competence in reading and interpreting prose such as newspaper articles, in working with documents such as bus schedules, and in using elementary arithmetic to solve problems involving cost of meals in restaurants.

The Educational Testing service reported that 56% of American born, four year college graduates were unable consistently to perform simple tasks, such as calculating the change from $3 after buying a 60 cent bowl of soup and a $1.95 sandwich' (Wingspread Group on Higher Education, 1993).

Situations like these are becoming more common, and it is our responsibility to ensure that today's students receive the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in the future.

What should we do? We all know that in the community college setting, many of our high school graduates come to us unprepared for college-level work. I believe that in order to address this problem and to ensure that our students are adequately prepared for transfer institutions and work we must: 1) develop a pre-kindergarten through university system; 2) create courses with academic instructors that are based on best practices; 3) ensure that all programs serving students are based on a student learning outcomes model; 4) use best practices for appropriate student populations; and 5) use technology to spread success stories.

Develop a pre-kindergarten through university system. We must develop a pre-kindergarten through university system that is aligned and focused on agreed upon standards of learning and measurement at every level. It is important for those of us in community colleges to work with our high schools to assess learning early in a student's high school journey. We must identify gaps in learning and partner with high school educators to develop a curriculum that addresses those gaps. Student learning must be consistently measured in a variety of ways in the high school environment so that curriculum and learning methods can be adjusted as needed. We must develop similar partnerships with university partners and continue the assessment of student learning outcomes throughout the college learning experience.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this method is a science/math institute that was sponsored by Lansing Community College. The institution brought elementary through college instructors together to study student outcomes and to discuss gaps in learning. They then took the information from their discussions and worked together to develop solutions. It is this type of program that is a must for every community college.

Create courses with academic instructors. It is important that academic advisors, student affairs personnel, and academic instructors work together to develop courses that are based on best practices and that focus on both the cognitive and affective domains. For example, at Lansing Community College a science course was offered that was constructed with multiple domains in mind.

During the first few weeks of the course, classroom activities were designed around a learning community concept in which students supported one another. During this time, students were also engaged in assessment activities to determine if they had the required skills for the course. In areas where there were deficiencies, students were referred to academic support services. For example, to be successful in this particular course, students needed to know how to use the metric system. They were assessed for this knowledge, and if needed, they were referred to the tutoring center for assistance.

During the length of the course, students kept journals in which they were asked to comment on what they had learned, what concepts were unclear, and how they felt about the learning. The journals were read by the instructor and appropriate actions were taken. In addition, the professor also worked with a team of instructors who studied test results throughout the semester. This team identified areas of concern, modified instruction, and retested when appropriate. The team then shared the instructional methods that worked the best.

At Cedar Valley College, we have developed a Community of Learners for Health Professionals in which faculty and advisors work together to ensure that students not only reach the learning outcomes of their courses, but are also successful in completing the class. Designed around a community of learners concept, some of the major components of the program are a career Web site, speaker series, and individual advisement.

Ensure that all programs are based on learning outcomes. It is important that academic and student affairs programs are based on a learning outcomes model. I once participated in a one-day student orientation program with clear student learning outcomes. There was a pre-test at the beginning of the orientation whose results were used to help student affairs personnel understand what students knew. The pre-test was followed by an orientation that addressed specific student learning outcomes, and the session ended with a post-test that measured what students had learned. The information from the program was used to improve future orientations.

Other colleges have moved to a system where all programs are a part of a student outcomes emphasis. For example, the student affairs professionals at the Community College of Baltimore County have a definition for a self-directed learner. Each student affairs department then further defines the aspects of a self-directed learner based on the department's specialty. For example, the Career Transfer Center has defined a self-directed learner as a student who is able to identify at least three careers that match his/her interests and abilities and can name at least two potential transfer institutions that match the major and other relevant criteria (Harvey-Smith, Peterka and Sullivan, 2005).

Use best practices for appropriate student populations. Our world is growing more diverse everyday; as we work to improve student success we must use best practices for the specific student populations that we serve. I am concerned when I hear of programs designed to serve specific student populations where those creating the programs failed to consult with individuals who have been successful working with these student groups.

In my home state of Texas, we are working to close the gap in achievement in higher education for African-American and Hispanic students. I remind my colleagues at my own institution that if we want to design programs that ensure success for African-American students, then we must learn more about the practices of the best historically black institutions in our country.

Use technology to spread success stories. Much has been written about technology and its role in higher education. It is important that we use technology to gather data and analyze it for improvements in services we provide students.

We must also use data to tell our story and validate the effectiveness of our programs. While at Brookhaven College, I led a team that conducted a qualitative study that revealed the success of a human development course in effectively meeting student learning outcomes. What I failed to do, however, was to provide leadership for the sharing of the information in ways that would have allowed others to benefit from our work and further validate the effectiveness of our human development program.

A Challenge. I know that academic advisors impact lives. We need ways to capture the success of students and to share this information with the world. Therefore, I issue you a challenge: As academic advisors, I ask that you build your programs based on student learning outcomes. In doing this, remember to create relationships from the pre-kindergarten through the university level, build relationships with faculty, focus on student learning outcomes, and discover ways to measure and improve results. To do this, you must stay current on the best practices for educating diverse populations and shape programs based on proven successes. Finally, use technology to support student success and to tell the world about the difference you make in the lives of today's students.

Jennifer Wimbish
President, Cedar Valley College
Dallas County Community College District
[email protected]


Harvey-Smith, A., Peterka, C., and Sullivan, C. (2005). 'The Community College of Baltimore County Learning Outcomes in Student Services Plan 2006.' Developed in conjunction with the Mary land State Vice Presidents and Deans of Student Services Learning Outcomes in Students Services Project.

O' Bannion, T. (1997). A Learning College for the 21st Century. Phoenix, Arizona: American Council on Education and the Oryx Press, 1997.

Wingspread Group on Higher Education. (1993). 'An American Imperative: Higher Expectations for Higher Education.' Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation, Inc. 1993.

Cite this article using APA style as: Wimbish, J. (2006, December). Meeting the challenges of 21st century academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 29(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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