BLOG: Odessa College Closes Equity Gap in Degree Completion

Odessa College services more than 8,000 students annually. Sixty-one percent are Latino, 28 percent are white, and four percent are Black. One-third attend college full-time. Approximately three-quarters of students are 24 years old or younger. About 40 percent receive Pell Grants.

Just seven years after the Texas state legislature considered defunding Odessa College because of the college’s enrollment and persistence challenges, the institution nearly doubled its three-year graduation rate for all students and has closed the equity gap in graduation rates between Hispanic and White students. In fact, Hispanic students are now graduating at a higher rate than White students.

How did Odessa College turn around its enrollment and persistence challenges to change so many students’ lives?

New President Gregory D. Williams was hired with a mandate to improve student success. He put every dimension of the college’s operations on the table for reform and challenged the college community to rethink all of its practices. As part of the Achieving the Dream Network, the college engaged an ATD Data Coach to provide expertise and direction to help the Odessa team develop leading indicators of student success, including enrollment, in-class retention, course success, and persistence toward degree completion. These new measures and the process of creating them pointed the entire college toward the same goals.

“We credit Achieving the Dream, not only for helping us to become more data-informed, but for making us so uncomfortable with what we had been doing that we had to change,” said President Williams.

Immediate, Direct Connections between Faculty and Students Increase Course Persistence

One of those changes was to ask faculty to begin building and maintaining relationships with their students, starting on the first day of class. A thorough examination of course completion data revealed that the difference in drop rates across instructors wasn’t related to instructors’ teaching methods. Rather the difference stemmed from the degree to which faculty made–or didn’t make–immediate connections with students.  Odessa then began its Drop Rate Improvement Program. Faculty adopted practices that increased students’ connection to the course right away, including interacting with students by name during the first day of a new term; monitoring student behavior and progress and intervening when an issue arises; meeting with students one-on-one and communicating routinely about their course performance; and maintaining a structured course while allowing for some flexibility.

Faculty received real-time data on each of their students to enable them to make data-informed decisions about how to improve their teaching. The college also created a new position, Dean of Teaching and Learning, to support instructors.

“Every semester I make every effort to ensure that my classroom environment is inviting, exciting, and most of all, safe for learning by encouraging students to participate in class individually or in groups. I use personal experiences and my own personal background to try to relate to and connect with my students…” – Instructor Milagros G. Carrasco, Department of Mathematics

Replacing 16-Week Semesters with 8-Week Terms Help Students Focus

Perhaps more significantly, Odessa broke their traditional 16-week semester into two eight-week terms. This structure enables students to focus on fewer courses each term without paying more tuition or delaying their progress toward a degree. The college also changed its registration practice, which had required students to register each term. Students are no automatically enrolled each term and are encouraged to take courses in sequence.

“I feel comfortable here. We’re all equal. Even though I speak Spanish and English, I don’t feel judged by how I speak. When I came here for the first time, I liked the mood, the way the students were talking about their classes. They were excited.” –  Kevin Quintana, Pre-Radiologic Technology Student, Odessa College

Drop Rate Improvement Program Plus 8-Week Terms Dramatically Increase Class Completion

Odessa College credits its Drop Rate Improvement Program and 8-week terms, college-wide strategies that they developed with help from Achieving the Dream, with increasing student success. By keeping students in class and constantly monitoring student performance, the college knows immediately if a student runs into a challenge and can provide support to both students and instructors. Students at Odessa College are benefitting tremendously from the college’s holistic, student-centered culture, and the proof is in the numbers.

Read more here.


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