Wednesday, March 16, 2016


A Query About Queries

I have amazing readers.  I’m hoping some of you can help me with this one.

If you were trying to help a community college improve its students’ success rates, what statistics would you find the most helpful?

Let’s assume that you have some of the usual suspects.  For example, let’s assume that you already have access to the average pass rate, the average retention rates (fall to spring and fall to fall), and the usual variations on graduation and transfer rates.  (The latter refers to transfer before graduation, which is relatively common at many community colleges.)  Let’s also assume that you’re able to disaggregate each of those by race/ethnicity, gender, part-time/full-time status, and age.  

What else would you want to look at?

The goal is to identify areas in which changes or interventions are likeliest to make the most difference.  

Because I’m working in a community college setting, where “open admissions” is part of the mission, the goal is not to exclude risky students.  (“Drown the bunnies” is not an acceptable answer.)  Selectivity is out of bounds.  The goal is to help as many real students as possible to succeed.

Resources are limited, which implies a few things.  First, it suggests that concierge-level service for every student -- which would probably do wonders for completion rates -- isn’t gonna happen.  Wildly expensive solutions may be theoretically interesting, but in practical terms, they’re irrelevant.

Second, limited resources apply not only to the interventions, but to the data gathering itself.  Our ERP system isn’t perfect, and we can’t afford to hire dozens of new institutional researchers to look under every rock.  

Finally, there are both ethical and political considerations to weigh.  For example, I take the ethical position that system fixes are separate from individual performance fixes.  Assume, for the sake of argument, that the personnel won’t change.  That means looking at structure and process, rather than individual people.  And assume that any key statistic you use to make decisions may become public, and may be used in very different contexts for different agendas.  Some level of that may be unavoidable, but it’s best to steer away from measures that are likeliest to backfire.  

What would you look at?

My immediate response is to look at a couple of "gate-keeper" courses--the first composition course and the first (in this case probably remedial) math course. Try to develop data on improvements in student performance in those courses and try to determine what features of instruction are related to performance gains. If there's something consistent, then it might be possible to help more students succeed in two courses that are often major barriers to success--however we choose to define success.
I wasn't allowed to finish. But to elaborate: is there a good advising system? Do students have access to accurate information? Do they know who to turn to with questions about degree requirements and graduation?
I agree with Don Coffin that identifying gatekeeper courses is critical—and they may not be the ones that are currently prerequisite to everything in a department. Look for grade correlations between different courses—which courses are predictive of future grades by the same student?

It may not be the first course that is crucial (remedial courses tend to be graded on such a different scale from other courses, that a high grade on a remedial course may not even be predictive of passing later courses).

If one course is prerequisite to another, there should be a fairly high correlation in grades for the same students. If there isn't, then the prerequisite is incorrect in some way: an arbitrary filter that impairs scheduling flexibility, not covering what later courses assume it covers, or not testing lasting increases in knowledge/skills.

If there is a high correlation between courses that aren't in a prereq structure, like between a writing course and an engineering course, then maybe a prereq arrow should be added.

The goal for prereqs is to reduce student failures in the course that has the prereq, so it may be worth looking at number of attempts at a course, as well as the final grade in the course.
Good Read.. Comparing colleges was never easier as it is with My College Route. Log on to our website today and get your hands on some fool proof information about a vast number of colleges in India. Visit: Top MBA Colleges in Delhi
Another day, another spam from a hijacked account.

My first thought was similar to those above. High on my list would be a study of how many failures were associated with taking the wrong class, but that would require hard work and probably engagement with the faculty. More on the IR side would be looking for correlations between reading level and failure in unrelated classes that all depend on reading (english, history, other social sciences, intro science). There are more "big" words in science than in social sciences, but even a criminal justice class poses vocabulary challenges. As noted above, I think reading comprehension is as big a problem as fluency in basic middle school algebra when I look at who struggles in physics (or engineering as GSwoP noted at 8:08 pm).

The wrong class issue ties into what your college is current failing to accomplish with its nicely named and well-motivated initiative. I was wondering if you had a sub-college algebra path for those who don't need algebra for their major, so I went and looked. You do. I don't know if you have a mechanism for students to declare which of many pathways they are interested in, something IR can look at, so it could be that only faculty first-day surveys can find out what is going on. But what I do know is that when I clicked through some of the really nice tools you have, I hit dead links (went to "catalog" rather than a specific program) and none of the programs had suggested courses for math except when one was required. So, do you have history majors failing college algebra or intermediate algebra when neither of those classes are required for them to graduate? I know from my colleagues that the answer is "yes".
My previous university had a first-generation program, which targeted students whose parents did not attend higher education. A lot of this program is aimed at setting up students who are entirely new to the university ecosystem and match them with senior peers who were doing very well. That program was very successful at identifying issues that cropped up among higher-risk students.

This program was created as a result of research showing that students who were the first generation to go to college disproportionately lacked parental support in navigating the university environment. The cyclical review of this program showed it to be quite effective.
High on my list would be a study of how many failures were associated with taking the wrong class

I agree with CCPhysicist. Many of the failures in majors bio are students who, in fact, are not bio majors, are not planning to take a pre-med sequence, and do not have a good reason for taking the class other than they need a lab science course to graduate and it fit into their schedule better than any of the non-majors courses.

By the way, we don't restrict our majors classes to just majors because many students will take it just to test the waters to see if a potential bio major or pre-med sequence feels like the right fit. Thus, it's difficult for me to determine (except by specifically asking students on the beginning of semester survey) whether a Liberal Arts major is taking the class because they're somewhat serious about pursuing science or because they just wanted a lab science and have no idea what they're in for*.

*Not necessarily a negative; who knows -- maybe a right-place-right-time mistake will ignite a passion for science that they didn't know they'd develop
Although I'm at a research university, it is also a Hispanic Serving Institution with 41-52% of each entering class being the first in their family to attend college. I've started recommending to students that they read Ellen Bremen's Say This, NOT That to Your Professor. My son read it before going to college and commented that it was all obvious common sense stuff—but what is obvious common sense to the son of a professor may be strange cultural rites of a foreign culture to a student whose parents and siblings never attended college.
I had one other thought, but didn't want to mix it in with my initial comment. Why the aversion to looking at individual faculty? I know that one prof teaches a highly mathematical (proof-based) class that discourages and fails a disproportionate number of students that are comparably prepared (because I can see their algebra skills in my class). I also know there are some who pass students on -- to repeated failure in the next class -- because they want to be nice to those students and also keep their pass rate so they look good. Both are correctable, so why not get the folks who are supposed to be implementing your focus on learning to see if learning is taking place? You do that by looking at sequences, while also noting variations with time of day and scheduling (mon-wed-fri versus tue-thur).

CCBioProf, thanks for that reminder about intro majors classes. I've seen students discover an interest in physics or engineering or chemistry in a non-majors class I sometimes teach and end up doing rather well. (That said, those people enrolled out of curiousity, to "test the waters", not because it fit their schedule!) And there are sometimes reasons for a lit or history major to take classes normally taken by engineers: they want to fly jets in the Navy and have to pass engineering-type classes to do so. No automated advising system will pick up on that!

I read your articles very excellent and the i agree our all points because all is very good information provided this through in the post. It is very helpful for me. Keep blogging like this. Thanks.

Peridot Systems Chennai Reviews
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?