Provost’s Address at Faculty Convocation

Designing for Student Success

Karrin E. Wilks, Senior Vice President & Provost

January 27, 2017

Good morning and welcome to our first annual Faculty Convocation. Thank you all for joining us. We are very pleased to have to have this opportunity for collective conversation about teaching and learning in support of student success. Creating opportunities for faculty dialogue about student success is essential to our goal of improving student success. We can’t possibly do that without a collaborative culture, an intentional design for student success, a culture of inquiry that systematically studies our design for student success, and a design grounded in shared guiding principles and a shared understanding of how we define student success.

So this morning I’d like to talk a little about different lenses through which to view student success, share some guiding principles that are important to me, and pose many questions throughout. I see asking questions and encouraging dialogue as one of my primary roles. Hopefully you will have comments or questions at the end, and we’ll continue our collective conversation throughout the day and the semester.

So what do we mean by student success? As you know, we have a revised mission statement that defines student success in these terms:

– first, broadly, in terms of intellectual and personal growth

– second, more pointedly, in terms of degree completion, successful transfer, career  achievement, lifelong learning, and civic participation.

So I ask you in our collective design for success, which of those indicators are most important to you, as a faculty member? How do we design for success in those terms? And what is the role of faculty leadership in realizing the design?

We also have a strategic plan, Reaching Greater Levels: 2015-2020, that defines our institutional effectiveness largely in terms of student success. Grounded in a student progression model that focuses on key transition points in a student’s educational journey from college readiness through graduation and beyond, we have committed ourselves to five strategic priorities aimed at improving student success:

  • Strengthen college readiness and improve the effectiveness of developmental offerings, with our sharp focus on curricular and pedagogical innovation in remedial offerings.
  • Improve the student experience, with a particular emphasis on improving advisement and student outcomes in gateway courses.
  • Facilitate timely degree completion, graduation, and transfer, particularly through scaling successful cohort models like ASAP, the Learning Academy, and Out in Two;
  • Prepare students for 21st century careers and contribute to workforce development in NYC with an emphasis on improving the STEM pipeline, and expanding internships and experiential learning, including undergraduate research.
  • Cultivate institutional transformation, innovation, and sustainability, particularly through enhanced professional development and by developing the theory and practice of faculty leadership at BMCC.

Again I ask you to consider, which of these priorities is most important to you as a faculty member? How do we design for success in those terms? And what is the role of faculty leadership in realizing the design?

Our mission and our strategic plan offer two critical lenses through which to view student success. A variant and for our deliberation here is to consider success from these perspectives:

What does student success from a teaching/learning perspective, a classroom perspective mean?

What does student success from a student perspective mean?

What does student success from an institutional perspective mean?

What does student success from an equity and social justice perspective mean?

I want to talk about each of these a bit more, but first I want to share some guiding principles that ground my thinking about student success. I invite you to think about your guiding principles, and for us to continue a dialogue about guiding principles as fundamental to designing for student success.

So these are Karrin’s guiding principles for defining and designing for student success. You could also call these fundamental working theories. Either way, this is about developing a collective narrative about where we want to go as a college, about our hopes, dreams, and aspirations for our students.  

Students can learn anything under the right conditions. Rather than viewing poor preparation and students’ life circumstances as insurmountable barriers, we are deeply engaged in examining our own practices and developing theories and practice about the right conditions under which all students can learn.

Every student needs direction and connection. This is about the power of academic planning and engagement, and personalization, and knowing there is at least one person looking out for you, at least one person you can always turn to.

Learning outcomes can (and must) improve. There is overwhelming evidence that we can design for improved student success. When colleges have a culture based on student success, faculty and staff consistently invent ways to improve student outcomes. It is possible to move the dial.

The college is what our students experience, not what we think they experience or hope they experience or what we experience, but what students actually experience, every step of their journey. We need to deeply understand their experience, and we need their voices in our design for success.

Access to success—not just access to enrollment— is fundamental to advancing equity, opportunity, and social justice. This is a shift in thinking about institutional success, particularly for community colleges designed as access/enrollment machines. Access is not good enough.

BMCC cannot realize our vision to become a premier community college as defined by student success without strong, visible and pervasive faculty leadership, such that the most effective success practices are recognized and scaled. Put more directly, faculty are the mechanism for scaling success.

So with these guiding principles as a foundation, let’s consider the four lenses through which we could define student success. First:

Defining student success in the classroom: focus on teaching and learning. I’m going to tell two brief stories from my experience as a teacher which symbolize, in simple terms, how I would define student success from a classroom perspective.

The first is from when I taught high school English when I was not much older than some of my students. For context, the high school was heavily tracked so that ninth graders were placed in one of three English classes: thoughtfully labeled 9A, 9B1 and 9B2. As the newest and least-experienced teacher, I was assigned 9B2, obviously the lowest level. Many of the students were mortified that they were placed in the class, including one who repeatedly asked if I could shut the door so she wouldn’t be seen by people walking by. One day an angry student threw a folding chair at me; another time a student revealed through an assignment that she had attempted suicide more than once. I was completely unprepared to manage the teaching and learning in this classroom, to rethink my notions of curriculum and pedagogy and engagement. Students passed the class, but there was a missed opportunity for deep learning, a missed opportunity for student success.

From the opposite side of the spectrum of student success, for many years I taught a freshmen-experience type class called Dimensions of Learning at the Community College of Vermont. One of the readings was Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and I was frequently intrigued by how engaged my mostly female adult students were during these discussions. One woman in particular, a single mom with a history of struggle and violence, I will always remember when she exclaimed: “This is me, my life, the chains, the shadows, me not willing to see the truth.” She was intellectually and personally excited about her own learning. The point is that the experience in the classroom had a profound effect on how she came to see her life and her place in the world. She passed the class but her success was much more than that, it was about a change in her belief system.

Obviously we want students to pass their courses, but how do we create a culture of student success that goes beyond pass rates, to expand the kind of deep learning that leads to change—in knowledge or behaviors or beliefs or attitudes? Learning that has a lasting impact on how students think or act? Learning that reflects what we believe about what it means to be an educated person. The “intellectual and personal growth” part of our mission statement, the parts about lifelong learning and civic engagement. The part about making the world a better place. How do we most effectively create a culture of student success defined this way?

Moving from defining student success from a teaching and learning perspective, from the classroom: How about defining student success from the students’ perspective?

During this past registration period we asked 499 students to respond to a brief questionnaire that asked about their goals for being at BMCC and how they would define success. Over 50% indicated that getting a degree was their goal (and half of those specified a bachelor’s degree), and 25% said passing their classes was their goal. The majority defined success in terms of getting a degree, passing classes, and achieving their goals. Getting a degree is their definition of success, including successfully transferring to earn a baccalaureate degree. And 44% defined success in terms of a good career. According to a survey conducted annually by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, students are increasingly reporting that they are going to college to get a good job, and choosing colleges whose graduates get good jobs.

This is not to negate the many student responses about becoming a better person and improving the lives of family and others. This is just to say that getting a degree and a good job are fundamental to student definitions of their own success.

So how does that align with how we are defining student success from an institutional perspective? We have explicit strategic plan outcomes, linked to our mission statement, for improving retention and graduation rates, degree completions, and successful transfer. Here is a snapshot of how we are doing overall.

KEY STUDENT OUTCOMES

Our retention rate is stubbornly flat, but the graduation rate is increasing incrementally. The ASAP graduation rate is evidence that student outcomes can improve. In 2016, we conferred 4200 degrees, an all time high. For our transfer students, of our 2015 graduates sixty percent of them went to CUNY colleges, and six percent went to non-CUNY colleges. Our six-year baccalaureate rate for the fall 2010 cohort is seventeen percent for all, and thirty-eight percent for those who complete an associate degree.

We recently did an analysis of factors predictive of three-year graduation at BMCC. Here is what we found:

FACTORS PREDICTIVE OF THREE-YEAR GRADUATION AT BMCC

  • being exempt from remediation: the longer you’re in, the less likely you are to persist
  • enrollment in ASAP or College Discovery: cohort models work
  • passing all first fall semester courses: the importance of success in the first semester
  • summer enrollment, particularly before the second fall: credit accumulation, momentum
  • being female
  • not being black or Hispanic

So let’s remember who are students are:

 

 

And…

  • 68% full-time, 57% female, average age 24
  • First-time freshmen: 77% require remediation, 72% need math, 13% need all three; 15% exempt
  • Over 165 foreign birth countries: Dominican Republic, China, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Haiti
  • Over 105 languages spoken: Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, French, Russian
  • Largest majors: Liberal Arts, Criminal Justice, Business Administration, Undeclared Health, Early Childhood, Business Management, Accounting, Science, Human Services, Computer Sciences

This brings us to thinking about student success from an equity perspective. Here are some data aligned with our strategic planning student progression model.

EQUITY AND STUDENT PROGRESS

Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be placed in developmental courses

Black and Hispanic students have lower one-year retention rates compared to other groups

Black and Hispanic students have lower three-year graduation rates compared to other groups

Black and Hispanic students have lower CUNY transfer rates compared to other students

Black and Hispanic students have lower CUNY 6-year baccalaureate graduation rates compared to other students

It is clear that we need to explicitly address equity gaps at every key transition point in our students’ educational journey with us. This is fundamental to our student progress model as a way of defining student success, and fundamental to our historic mission to advance equity and social justice. I encourage us to think about this as a matter of scholarly inquiry into the pedagogical, curricular, and structural strategies that are effective in reducing performance gaps. Again, we can point to colleges who have been successful in this effort. We can and we must improve performance gaps.

The Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California talks about this in terms of being equity-minded, and that equity-minded institutions follow certain principles and demonstrate key indicators.

CENTER FOR URBAN EDUCATION: EQUITY-MINDED INSTITUTIONS

Institutionally-Focused: Focus on remediating the institution’s actions rather than students’ actions alone. Equity must be enacted as a pervasive principle.

Critically Race Conscious: Pay attention to whether minoritized groups are participating, feel welcome, and succeed.

Systemically Aware: Recognize and counteract institutional and structural racism and other forms of bias, explicit and implicit. Clarity in language is vital. Having the courage to have hard conversations is critical.

Evidence-Based: Informed by disaggregated data and qualitative inquiry findings. Questioning assumptions, and clarity in goals and measures are vital.

Action-Oriented: Take action to eliminate inequity. Equitable practice and policies are designed to accommodate differences in the contexts of students’ learning, not to treat all students the same. Equity is not the same as equality, a principle we must operationalize.

In thinking about student success from an equity perspective, we must also consider student achievement after they leave us, for which students themselves have two primary goals: successful transfer and a good career. I have shared some data about the work we need to do to reduce performance gaps in transfer and baccalaureate achievement. But what about family-sustaining wages and upward mobility? We know that our graduates’ median annual income steadily rises over time, but on average from a starting rate below $25,000. That is obviously a challenge here in New York City.

The very good news is that BMCC, in alignment with our mission, is a social justice engine from the perspective of upward mobility. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece entitled “America’s Great Working-Class Colleges” based on a massive big data study that measured students’ earnings after leaving college (whether graduating or not), BMCC ranked third nationally of the 690 community colleges in the study, third nationally in the likelihood that a BMCC student will move up two or more income quintiles from where they entered the college. BMCC students have a 41% likelihood of moving up two or more income quintiles as a result of being here. That is a great point of pride for our college, for our faculty, in realizing our social justice mission.

Additionally, Baruch College ranked in the top ten in the same study, as 79% of their students from the bottom fifth of the income distribution end up in the top three-fifths. More BMCC graduates go to Baruch than any other transfer destination, and students who started at BMCC made up around 14% of the most recent graduating class at Baruch, so we can take pride in our essential feeder role in ensuring upward mobility as well, a fundamental social purpose of community colleges.

We have a vision that BMCC will be recognized as one of our nation’s premier community colleges in relation to student success and academic excellence, known as thought leaders in higher education.

So I return to some of my original questions: How do we design for success in those terms? And what is the role of faculty leadership in realizing the design? Let’s consider both design and faculty leadership briefly before I close.

Valencia Community College was the first to win the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and is nationally known for their remarkable gains in student outcomes, including closing performance gaps among students of different backgrounds. They have developed and employed a process for collaborative design and innovation that is based on architectural design and involves four steps:

1) Defining the design principles,

2) Developing a schematic theory based on the design principles,

3) Developing the design, and

4) Implementing the design.

The point of this example is that successful colleges collaboratively design for success, a process that begins with dialogue and the collective definition of design principles, and a collective narrative about what student success looks like, inquiry into what’s working and what needs attention— all driving a faculty culture of student success. Designing for success must be disciplined, intentional.

We can’t possibly achieve our vision, we can’t possibly improve student success without strong, visible and pervasive faculty leadership. Through a variety of venues, this Convocation included, we are developing our theory of faculty leadership for student success, faculty leadership in formal and informal roles, within and across departments and disciplines, inside and outside the classroom.

Faculty leadership to make BMCC the kind of organization we want to teach and learn and grow in. A culture that flourishes, as evidenced by continuous learning; a culture that is energized, engaged, generous, compassionate  A collaborative culture designed for student success, one that practices and celebrates teaching excellence, the review of evidence, and ongoing experimentation. A culture that respects and embraces the challenges and opportunities related to student success, such that when students don’t succeed, faculty routinely respond with theories of change. Rather than viewing poor preparation and life demands as insurmountable barriers to student success, we deeply engage in analysis of how our own actions can drive stronger outcomes. A culture in which pedagogical leadership is held in the highest esteem.

So I thank you for your contributions, both inside and outside the classroom. I thank you for your commitment to student success and excellent teaching. I thank you for your pedagogical and thought leadership about student success from multiple perspectives: teaching and learning, students’ dreams and goals for themselves, institutional priorities, and advancing equity. This is the work before us, designing a culture of student success.

 

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First Faculty Convocation

As a large, urban college, BMCC has a large, urban faculty. It’s difficult to communicate with them–in any direction. We find ourselves relying on small groups, some elected such as department chairs and academic senate, and email. Our web site posts information. But where is dialogue? Thus we attempted a large social gathering with a message.

The first BMCC Faculty Convocation was held at BMCC last week. On a Friday. In January. It was nice. Here’s a piece from the public affairs office:

The Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Office of Academic Affairs hosted the College’s first annual Faculty Convocation on January 27 in Theatre I at 199 Chambers Street.

BMCC President Antonio Pérez opened the event attended by hundreds of full-time and adjunct faculty. “As we assess and measure student success, we have to take into account things that are constantly changing in our city,” he said, referring to the economic climate and social issues. He also emphasized, “What happens in the classroom is at the heart of student success.”

Karrin E. Wilks, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, presented a talk on challenges in the community college classroom and evidence-based strategies for addressing them.

“It is our goal to bring faculty together and have a collective conversation about teacher and student success,” she said, one that creates “a collaborative culture; a culture of inquiry based on shared guiding principles.” She referred to guiding principles such as, “Students can learn anything under the right condition” and “Access to success is fundamental to advancing equity … but access is not enough.”

Read more.

One of our aims was to continue a collegewide dialogue about student success. Another was to make teaching more public. To do that, we invited the winners of the 2016 Distinguished Teaching Award to address the group. (The award was given for the first time in 2016.)

In Tali Noimann’s talk, “(Em)power in the Classroom,” she examined the importance of creating an environment in which students have the freedom to self-teach and peer-teach. “Student centered means relinquishing the power that we think we have in the classroom,” she said. “The less I do, the more they learn.”

Nick Marino described four concepts for student success in the classroom: unity, compassion, authenticity and discovery. “Yes, model the rigors of scholarship,” he said, “but revisit, revalue and revise what we say in response to the world of our students, as it changes around us.”

John Beaumont talked about faculty’s role in student success, with a focus on “how to stay aware, and in tune with what is happening in the classroom.” He questioned the validity of assigning labels to the learning environment; for example, “labeling our classrooms as ‘interactive’, or our students as ‘communicative’,” and challenged teachers to look closely at whatever labels they assign to themselves, as well.

After lunch, faculty led other faculty in discussions of teaching and teaching strategies, such as Research in the Classroom, Online Learning, Flipped Classes, and Internships.

I think we met a lot of our goals, particularly giving faculty an opportunity to see one another and talk about teaching. Pending results of the assessment of the event, I think we’ll do it again.

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Leaders, not administrators in training

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education featured leadership development programs for faculty at Rutgers and Macalester, among other universities. The article [paywall alert] focused on the need to train faculty for roles as department chairs and deans. At BMCC we have taken a different approach, one that recognizes that faculty lead from where they are. Our week-long seminar last week did not attempt to train administrators but to develop leaders at many levels of the organization. The story below ran earlier this week…

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Fourteen Leadership Fellows — full-time Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) faculty from 12 academic departments — participated in the inaugural Faculty Leadership Fellows Program, January 9 through January 13, at BMCC.

The program was funded by a grant from the American Express Foundation. The goal of the LeadershipProgram is to develop faculty leadership and strengthen the participants’ ability to contribute to BMCC’s vision of becoming a leading community college.

“We recognize our faculty as leaders in the classroom, department, College and beyond, based on our belief that leadership rests within the person; not within a title, position or office,” says Jim Berg, Associate Dean of Faculty.

Faculty fellows with BMCC leadership and American Express sponsor.

Faculty fellows with BMCC leadership and American Express sponsor.

Read the full story.

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A New Tradition: Winter Faculty Convocation

BMCC will start a new tradition in January 2017. For the first time, all faculty will gather for a convocation on Friday, January 27.

In the most general sense, a convocation is simply a gathering of people. Its roots are in the church, but academics have used them to recognize the scholarly aspects college life. Frequently convocations are held to celebrate the start of a new academic year for students and faculty alike.

teaching fellows photo

Teaching fellows at BMCC gather to reflect on their teaching. (BMCC Public Affairs)

 

In Academic Affairs, we often feel (and are told) that BMCC lacks opportunities for faculty to meet informally for conversations about teaching and learning. Additionally, it can seem that faculty and administrators don’t speak the same language when it comes to student learning.

Smaller groups of faculty meet frequently, such as the BMCC Teaching Academy (left). However, the size of our faculty and the limitations on space have meant that all-faculty gatherings are nearly impossible here. There’s only one space on campus that could accommodate all fulltime faculty—Theater One. With a capacity of 900, it will fit all the fulltime faculty and a good proportion of the part-time faculty. We hope to fill it with people and conversation.

The first annual Winter Faculty Convocation will provide an opportunity for all BMCC faculty to gather in one place to explore pedagogy and student success. Convocation provides an organized professional development opportunity on a day when faculty are not teaching or attending meetings.

The day will begin at 10 a.m. with an address by Senior Vice President and Provost, Karrin Wilks. We’ll also hear from a select group of faculty: the 2016 BMCC Distinguished Teaching Award Winners will speak about their experiences in BMCC classrooms. They are John Beaumont, Academic Literacy and Linguistics; Chamutal Noimann, English; and Nicolas Marino, English.

After lunch, workshops and discussions on high impact teaching practices will be led by BMCC faculty. Topics such as research in the classroom, experiential learning, flipping the classroom, and online learning will be facilitated by faculty who are using these practices every term at the college.

We hope that all BMCC faculty will join us for this conversation. To sign up and see more information, go to the CETLS web site.

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Improving outcomes for developmental students

Recently, Karrin Wilks, Senior Vice President and Provost at BMCC, published an article about innovations in developmental outcomes at the college. Here’s the beginning of the piece:

Many of us have been working on developmental education reform for years with frustrating results, achieving incremental improvements, but not truly “turning the dial” in significant ways — until recently.

Improving developmental outcomes remains one of the most pressing issues facing community colleges, particularly in mathematics. Put simply, we will never improve retention and graduation rates without improving developmental outcomes.

Read the remainder of the article here.

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Undergraduate Research

Involving students in research at the undergraduate level is one of the High Impact Practices endorsed by the AAC&U. (See https://www.aacu.org/resources/high-impact-practices.) Community college students frequently get the opportunity to engage in research but seldom at the level or with the frequency seen at BMCC.

BMCC has invested a lot in supporting research among our faculty–research that students are heavily involved in. Here are some images of our new research lab, with views of the Hudson River!

Research lab at BMCC.

Research lab at BMCC.

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The New Active Learning

In the early 2000s, I led a program to encourage and support faculty at Minnesota’s community-technical colleges and state universities (MnSCU) to adopt active learning strategies. At the time, we used the most comprehensive definition of “active learning” that we could find, by Bonwell and Eison: “anything that gets students doing things and thinking about what they are doing” (Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, 1991; ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports). To my knowledge, Charles Bonwell and James Eison were the first to gather data on active learning strategies to see what worked. There wasn’t a lot of data.

Now, fifteen years later, “active learning” is still a popular and broad concept. The evidence of its efficacy for college teaching and learning has grown, and some researchers are talking about strategies that have a demonstrable impact on learners. Rather than talk about ill-defined “best practices,” a consensus seems to have formed around High Impact Practices (often, sadly, called HIP).

As defined by George Kuh in his High Impact Educational Practices (2008), these practices “have been widely tested and have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds” (https://www.aacu.org/leap/hips). Many of the practices that fall into the “active learning” category are among the teaching strategies Kuh documents, including undergraduate research, service learning, writing-intensive courses, and the more general collaborative projects.

To help our students to learn more and learn better, which is the promise of “high impact practices,” we need to engage students in their learning. We can give students classroom tasks and assignments that cause them to do things and reflect on their doing. And we can give them early and frequent feedback.

A common undercurrent to this discussion is the idea that traditional lectures are effective for some things and not for others, for some students and not for others. If we truly want students to learn the material, we can’t expect them to sit still for a 16 week lecture, take notes, and then simply take a mid-term and a final. There are ways to make learning more active in a lecture-based course, as well as quick and simple ways to give students feedback early and often.

At BMCC, many faculty are working to engage their students daily in research, service learning, writing, and other active learning strategies. BMCC math instructor Bukurie Gjoci wrote in the latest issue of Inquirer (Fall 2016) about how integrating active learning strategies into math classes improved student understanding.

We also encourage students to participate in common intellectual experiences and first year seminars through ASAP and the BMCC Learning Academy. The Office of Academic Affairs will be engaging with faculty across the college, including ASAP and BLA faculty, in learning more about High Impact Practices in the coming months as we make our way toward becoming a High Impact College.

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Hello world!

 

bmcc-sm-sqThis is a new blog relating to teaching, learning, and scholarship at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). As Associate Dean of Faculty, I work with faculty across the college to support teaching, improve learning outcomes for students, and contribute to research, scholarship and creative activity.

Community college faculty in the City University of New York (CUNY) are engaged in scholarship and research to an extent that most community college faculty are not. At BMCC, our faculty are highly engaged in their own research as well as working with undergraduate students on research.

Watch this space for news and views about teaching and learning at BMCC.

Jim

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