Monday, February 11, 2008

Day Ten in America - 11 February 2008

Naugatuck Valley Community College - 11 February 2008


Ben Mattheis - Associate Director of Admissions

I met with Ben and we started off our conversation by asking him to describe the admissions process. Ben described the roles that were within his office, and mentioned that there was a specialist post that dealt with applicants of colour; this is a very interesting concept and I would imagine would allow the post holder to forge very strong relationships with community figures and to build up trust amongst those where participation may not be automatic.

Prospective students can apply to the college using a variety of means; by hand into the front office, online, by phone etc. There is a rolling admissions system, and students can apply at any time. Ben explained that students are already applying for 2010 and presently, the college is dealing with applications for the fall session. They have just stopped accepting applications for the spring. Typically, in the fall, there are about 6,000 students, and this falls to 5,800 in the spring.

In terms of conversion rates, from those that apply, 60%-70% turn into enrolled students. Where students apply but don't turn up, the college will actively seek to find out why. As with other colleges, there is effective promotion of the college to community groups.

The college has a database called 'Banner' to collect information. This is essentially the college's student information system. The Banner software applies to all the Connecticut community colleges, and therefore duplication of information (where students enrol at 2 colleges, or where they transfer etc.) is avoided. The Banner database has 1,000,000 approx. entries at present. The system has three aspects; 1. Recruits (those that express an interest), 2. Applicants and 3. Registered students. I asked Ben about the conversion rate from those that enquire to enrolments and he stated that this was about 20%-30%.

There are instances of students who enrol at two or three colleges. This is due to the fact that there may not be the course on offer at the local community college, but the underpinning general courses are offered.

Students are encouraged to apply online; if they do, a lot of data input is minimised. However, there is still a data validation task to complete even if they do apply online. All students are encouraged to supply an email address, and this is then used to follow up.

Ben talked about the events calendar. There is a very good planned schedule of events in order to ensure good recruitment. The outcomes of the events are carefully analysed to measure their impact. Ben explained that this was useful in order to be as effective and as efficient as possible. Events were varied, for example, these could be in schools, community venues, careers fairs etc.

The college encourages parents to turn up at events. Here they have opportunity to talk about the process for seeking financial aid. If there are parents that haven't got a university legacy, there is the perception that application to financial aid is not necessary. The college works with parents to ensure that they have the most up to date and accurate information.

In terms of any legacy stigma, this is disappearing. Staff only need to remind any people with misunderstood perceptions of community colleges that they share the same accreditation with Yale, and this is effective in terms of changing perception.

Connecticut, as Ben explained, has the largetst concentration of colleges in the USA and is bound by traditions.

I asked Ben if those that had requested information were contacted if they hadn't become enrolments, and he stated that they did. The impact of doing this is about 5% success.

I asked what happened if students, who are on programme, don't turn up to lessons. This, again, was down to the individual instructor/faculty. There is a lot of academic freedom. The student does not necessarily have to turn up and if they are coping, then this is fine. However, if they are not, then it is in their best interests to access their classes.

The college is good at reaching out to minority populations. There is 30% of black, hispanic and asian students. The college does not discriminate on the grounds of citizenship status. If they are 'out of state', the students have to pay the out of state fee.

Lessons to learn:

  • Specialist admissions post to work with students of colou
  • Data collection of those who enquire
  • Email addresses used as a means of communication
  • 4 points of admission throughout the year

  • Impact measuring of recruitment events through data analysis

Patricia C. Bouffard - Executive Dean of the College

Patricia is a Dean of academic affairs. She has a wide remit, and when we started to speak, Patricia mentioned a number of initiatives that she is involved with, including the 'Tech Prep' programme, which allows school pupils to earn college credits and help them aspire to college life.
Patricia also has responsibility for curriculum development and new programmes and courses. This is an area that I'm really interested in, particularly as in the UK, all qualifications have to have national ratification if we are able to draw down funding. In the Connecticut state, this is not the issue, and therefore, colleges and staff within the colleges can develop programmes to meet the needs of the locality, however 'off the wall' or quirky. Patricia outlined the robust approvals process for these courses, albeit managed from within the college. This involves allowing the course / programme to run for one time only, to test for viability. Then the approval goes to the Curriculum and Educational Affairs Committee and they check against a set of criteria that have been predetermined. The committee is made up of peers across the college. Once this has been approved, there are open hearings for comment. Then professional staff are invited to vote whether the course should run or not. The final approval is with the Board of Governors. There have been cases where courses or changes have been voted down and Patricia gave the example of one such course that was seen as having too many barriers for students to enrol.

Patricia explained (and this has been reinforced by other colleagues from other institutions) that although there is much academic freedom for courses, there is an attempt at rationalising some courses across Connecticut to help students to transfer if they so wish. One initiative is to do this with the professional healthcare programmes. The success of this will be seen in 2 years time as it is still in the early phases of implementation.

I asked Patricia about her working day. It would appear that all managers back in the UK would relate to the type of day that Patricia has! There are many meetings, many emails, she signs many forms, deals with student queries and would very much like to get out onto the shop floor more to see the operation. She has 103 full time teachers within her faculty and knows most of them. It would be difficult, however, to know all of the adjuncts. She interviews for new staff and there is a lot of interviewing activity at present.

Patricia does manage a budget and allocates this to her reports. She has flexibility to manage her budget in the way that she sees fit. She explained that the college is funded by the state, but the state funding would not cover the costs of teaching alone, and therefore this has to be supplemented with tution fees. It is about half and half. The college, as far as possible, tries to keep tutition fees as reasonable as possible. This is to ensure that recruitment does not go down. Many of the students attracted are on financial aid.

Patricia has many meetings to contribute to and she outlined that she has to go to cabinet meetings (similar to our senior manager meetings), she holds her own staff meetings once per month, attends union meetings, curriculum meetings and attends many other external body meetings. She stated that every week is different. Patricia does not teach anymore.

Patricia explained progress measuring, in terms of student performance. Students are measured using Grade Point Averages (GPA), which are calculated using the number of credits being taken, divided by the scores that are given for each grade attained. GPS of 2.0 or above are considered to be OK in terms of the ability to graduate, whereas if they are below, then there are causes for concern. At risk students are dealt with out of Patricia's office. If students have a low GPA, and want to take a course a third time, only Patricia can authorise this. Students who are underperforming are put on probation in the first instance, and have to agree to certain actions, e.g. reduce part time work. If this doesn't work, then they are advised to do certain courses to help to raise their GPA. If this doesn't work, there can be suspension applied.

Areas of learning and interest for us:

  • Giving targeted school leavers the opportunity to earn qualifications to help to aspire them to college
  • Using calculations to ascertain the performance of students
  • Agreeing an action plan with an underperforming student to reduce PT work

Maritza Tiru - Director of Career Services

Maritza heads up the careers services within the college. I first asked Maritza if she could tell me more about the student workers within the college, as I was fascinated to learn that this was actively encouraged. Matritza explained that this incentive was funded through the financial aid office and it places students within the college campus. Maritza explained that each department probably has one or two student workers working for them.

Maritza explained the history to a significant operation within the Careers Service department. In 2005, the accreditation committee felt that a careers office was needed. The Coop programme was developed and this was about enabling students within the college to access hands-on work experience. There are many courses that now have, as part of the programme, a mandatory element of work experience within their programme. Students generally go on work experience for one simester, and are sent out with 5 agreed goals to achieve.

Generally, the employers offering work experience are very open to this; there is a 'win win' situation. The employers get good quality 'screened' students who aren't paid, and the students get excellent experience that enhances their resumés. During the work experience phase, the students take one class per week, and share their experiences with their peers.

The coordination of work experience has now been decentralised, and whilst this has shifted the responsibility back to the faculty, so they take ownership, there is no overarching quality standard check and this is seen, presently, as a gap. Therefore different faculties have different responses to work experience. Some are excellent and very passionate about making work experience happen, and some less so. This is an area that Maritza would like to develop. Currently, work experience attracts 3 credits. In terms of organisation, it is work intensive and there have to be visits to the placement provider in order to monitor student progress. Employers are also responsible for reporting back progress and, in the main, are candid about the performance of the student.

I spoke to Maritza about 'work readiness'. How did the college ensure that the students are geared up for the world of work. Maritza showed me a very comprehensive schedule of classes that can be attended on mock interivews, resumé writing, interview techniques, career planning etc. These are tools that can be given to students to help them with their success. All these are free to any student within the college, as well as graduates of the college. The careers service department also acts as a 'job centre'. Companies will post vacant positions within the office and students are encouraged to apply. This also enables the college to forge stronger links with the employers.

Maritza's office also carries out job type testing, for students who are unsure about the type of job that they want to persue. Career counseling is also carried out by the individual faculties and Maritza's department caters for the more general, cross college customer.

Maritza and her colleagues visit classes once per week to do workshops and talks. This is very popular and well received. Some areas even make the careers workshops mandatory, and this helps the students.

Again, Maritza, like her colleagues at the Connecticut Community colleges that I've visited so far have been incredibly passionate and eager to make a differenct to the student experience.

Areas of interest and learning

  • Student workers are employed into administrative roles within the college
  • The careers service office posts vacant positions and acts as a 'job centre'
  • Students on placement have to achieve 5 agreed goals
  • Job type analysis carried out
  • Graduates are able to utilise the service of the careers department

Lunch with colleagues at the Naugatuck Valley Community College

The geography of the building at Naugatuck Valley encourages much day to day interaction. There is a real feel of belonging and togetherness within the college.

Laurie-Jean Novi - Coordinator of Disability Services

When I met Laurie, my first question was about funding; how did she get funding to support students with additional needs? The answer was that it varied from college to college. Laurie did get funding, which was in the region of $10,000 per annum previously, but this has now been cut. However, if there is an individual need, she is able to apply for more funding and this is usually successful. I asked about signers; money for these comes from the administrator's budget, but the college is then able to claim the money back.

The college is very clear about its roles, responsibilities and remit. They don't provide personal care. Under American law, one to one tutoring is considered personal aid, and therefore this, too, is not provided. However, there are agencies that may provide this. Where adjustments are made for learners with disabilities or difficulties, (these are called 'accommodations') no change is made to the course content. However, sometimes parents can try to pressurise the college into admitting a student who simply isn't right for the course and Laurie has to have the difficult conversation with the parents to explain that their son/daughter simply would not pass if they were placed on the course.

We spoke about students with greater needs. Laurie explained that these students are usually clients of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS). "We provide the classes, and they provide the personal care, transport etc. " The college and the rehabilitation services now have a joint partnership and the roles and responsibilities are very clearly articulated. Laurie explained that at the schools, everything is provided, and therefore the transition between school and college can be fairly difficult. "We have to tell partents what we don't provide as well as what we do!"

In terms of the types of additional needs within the college, there are students with ADD, ADHD, phychiatric issues, intellectually delayed with low IQs. Some students 'hit a wall'. They have been with the college for some time and reach their full potential. Parents can sometimes be unrealistic about what their son/daughters can achieve and complain if they are not registered into the classes that they want for their children.

The college doesn't have special courses, e.g. life skills. Manchester College has a life skills course. This type of provision is usually provided by residential fee paying schools.

In terms of IT accessibility, the college presently deals on a case by case basis at an individual level.

Areas of Learning:

  • Very clear college remit; roles and responsibilities clearly articulated between rehabillitation services (day-care) and the college

Larry J. Smotroff - Dean of community and Economic Development

Continuing Education
As soon as the conversation started with Larry, it was very clear that he was totally dedicated to his mission. The closest comparison to Shrewsbury College to his role would be ACL and WFD combined into developing full cost recovery courses. The work that Larry and his team did was extensive and the results enviable.

Larry explained that whilst much of the operation was paid for by tax dollars (via the allocation of funding) there are also many posts within his division that are paid for through full cost recovery. All continuing education within Larry's remit is full cost recovery. He explained that it was important not to have a zero based budget, but to build in a profit margin, to take care of some of the courses that are loss leaders, or that don't recruit well.

Larry's team are energetic, they do courses to meet the needs of the locality. This can be through dialogue with employers seeking to upskill their staff with the latest legislation, or through reading and carrying out trends analysis, through focus groups and work with the community to gauge what is needed. The work has a tremendous outreach due to the excellent transport links.

In terms of staffing capacity, in 1999, the team employed 52 people, now they have 25.

Every programme has an advisory group from the community, to ensure that the courses are indeed meeting the needs of the customer. Customer care is paramount, and Larry is passionate about quality. He has developed a set of quality measures and all courses are scrutinies in a number of different ways to ensure that the courses are well received by the clients. This can be through observations and students questionnaries. Staff are given training to ensure that they do meet the quality standards and Larry has an excellent staff orientation pack to ensure that the team function well.

In terms of student numbers, presently there are between 6,500 and 7,000 enrolled on continuing education programmes. Some of these are paid for through employers, some by financial aid, but in the main, they are paid for by individuals. Payment plans are flexible, for example spread out over the course and by credit card.

Courses range form short sharp 3 hour sessions to up to 17-18 weeks.

There are online course options though "Ed to go". This is a third party company. However, credit based courses are developing their own and hosting these via WebCT. Some courses require online portfolios, although I will have to ask for more information on this.

Larry produces catalogues of all the courses throughout the year. If a course is developed mid catalogue, mailers will be sent out.

Larry mentioned that there was a comprehensive marketing campaign and that there is a marketing department within the college whose services are utilised. In terms of advertising, a range of vehicles are used, i.e. TV, radio, paper, posting direct mail and now a redesigned website that will be state of the art and will allow for a shopping cart type of approach. By far, Larry's experience tells him that word of mouth (due to excellent quality) and home mailers are the best in terms of bringing in customers. Also, many ways to enrol widen the possibility for the conversion of interest to actual enrollment.

Larry maintains that in order to be successful, a 'stellar' experience, each time, for each student, is essential.

In Connecticut, there is a 'Workforce Investment Act'. These are 'one stop shop' centres that supply all the services needed for those who need to seek employment or make the transition to new employment due to redundency etc. The continuing education team work with the WIA centres to forge links.

Another initiative that falls within Larry's remit is the 'Kids on Campus Programme'. This is a very interesting concept. It allows younger pupils (10-15) to come into college for short 1-2 week courses to do a class. It is a real educational opportunity that is also offered at time of vacation. Again, a win win situation for the parents. Holiday activities with a real educational benefit. The courses that I saw advertised were very exciting and if the students have a great experience whilst at the college, they are more likely to enrol later on in their lives. This is also a great marketing tool aimed at parents and the local community. The work in the community is essential in Connecticut as each state has its own very strong identity, and perceptions are incredibly important. Positive experiences at the college are critical.

We discussed the impact of the information age. Larry mused that he works more now than he did before, simply because of the wealth of information out there, and he feels like he might be missing something!

Larry concluded that each state in America is fiercely autonimous and developing a national curriculum would be difficult to achieve due to the differences within each state.

Larry's enthusiasm was contagious and we have lessons to learn regarding developing full cost recovery courses that engage employers and bring in revenue!

Lessons to learn:

  • Build in profit margins
  • Keep a very close eye on developing trends in terms of legislation changes and fashions
  • Robust and consistent quality measures for all courses
  • All courses have advisory groups drawn from the community
  • Excellent staff orientation process
  • Flexible payment plans to ease payments
  • Excellent word of mouth and home mailers, bringing in business
  • Working with younger children to give college course experience at an affordable price in the holidays


Richard Booth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Booth said...

Thanks Abi,

Good to hear about the various roles at the College and centers and how they cope with supporting learners from a wide catchment area.

Richard Booth said...

Great to have taken part in a 'Skype' video conference with Sam and colleagues at Naugatuck Valley Community College yesterday.

We all enjoyed the experience and look forward to further specific sessions on a variety of topics and agendas.