10/03/2013 05:04 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Above And Beyond: Raising Retention And Graduation Rates at Community Colleges

Nearly half of all undergraduates -- approximately thirteen million students -- attend community colleges in the United States. This fact underlines the imperative need of an engaged academic experience at the community college level that inspires students to stay in college and graduate in a timely manner.

Student retention is a complex issue for a myriad of reasons. Community colleges are a gateway for non-traditional students; many of whom face a diverse set of challenges, and are obliged to balance their studies with the demands of work and family. To help these students maintain momentum, an atmosphere must be established that draws personalized services closer to academic objectives. This strategy can be effective in enhancing student retention and graduation rates while strengthening their loyalty to their continued education and future careers.

Queensborough has a successful history of providing strong advisement and support services which have yielded positive results in student retention, graduation and academic performance. This led to our decision to build on and leverage our resources to scale up the Queensborough Academies -- launched this fall -- which serve all full-time degree students, from admission to graduation. Queensborough is one of the few community colleges offering such a program on this scale.

Changes implemented have been to restructure academic advisement using a caseload approach; enhance technology; strengthen outreach and intervention strategies; and expand the High Impact Practices-- nationally recognized as best practices in higher education -- which will now offer seven pedagogical approaches to engage students as active learners. The effects of these changes will be measured by a revised Academies assessment protocol.

Every full-time student is part of one of five Academies: Business; Liberal Arts (including Education and Criminal Justice); Health Related Sciences; Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA); and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). They are assigned an Academy Adviser who will be their personal guide throughout their college career at Queensborough. Interwoven into the multi-faceted initiative is Starfish, a comprehensive system which allows timely input about students by faculty; tracks the interventions recommended; and gives faculty feedback on the outcomes of their referrals.

Demonstrating the effectiveness of technology in a way that has never been done before, a new subsite allows students, parents, faculty, and staff to navigate from a program of study, to articulation agreement options, to possible careers. Conversely, students may search potential occupations and then trace back to appropriate programs of study. The ultimate goal is to utilize the subsite as an advisement tool that will deliver on the mission to assist students in making informed decisions about their goals and objectives.

The individual elements -- personalized student services, intrusive advisement and practical guidance toward pursuing a bachelor's degree and/or entering the workforce -- create the synergy needed to establish a holistic education that goes above and beyond the standard discipline offerings.