For the third consecutive semester, St. Petersburg College has made significant gains in the success rates of its first-time-in-college students, a positive sign that the intensive efforts to expand student support are paying off.
Overall, first-time-in-college students in Fall 2013 successfully completed 74.1 percent of their courses, compared to 69.4 percent in Fall 2012. Success in a course is defined as a student completing the course with an A, B or C grade.
The increase in success is particularly significant for African-American male students completing their first semesters in college. The African-American male students who began at SPC in August 2013 were successful in 64.8 percent of their classes. By comparison, the success rate for the African-American males who began in August 2012 was 51.2.
Hispanic males also made a significant gain, from a 66.2 percent success rate to 72.6.
“We are intensely focused on student success and, as we begin another new semester, it is gratifying to see hard work beginning to pay off, especially as we work to close the achievement gap for our minority students,” said President Bill Law. “We know degrees and certificates change lives, and we will continue to look for ways to give our students the support and assistance they need to successfully finish what they start.”
While many of the efforts are focused on incoming students, returning students are seeing the benefits of the efforts as well. The course success rate for all students in Fall 2013 was 76.3 and has increased consistently from Fall 2010, when the rate was 74.2.
Classes for the Spring Semester began today (Jan. 13).
Spring 2014 enrollment
The Spring semester opened Monday with 30,755 students enrolled, slightly fewer (less than 1 percent) than the opening day of the Spring semester a year ago.
“Obviously, we like to see our enrollment numbers increase or remain stable,” Law said. “But just adding numbers isn’t our chief goal. Our mission is to help the students who are here be successful, and we believe we are doing that better all the time – without lowering our academic standards.”
The College Experience: Student Success
To help increase student achievement, SPC in Fall 2012 launched an initiative called The College Experience: Student Success with five components:
- Expanded Out-of-Class Support
- Integrated Career and Academic Advising
- Improved New Student Orientation
- My Learning Plan
- Early Alert and Student Coaching.
The college this week introduced a new website, CollegeExperience.com, to give students more information about the resources available to them.
Some results of the College Experience initiatives:
Almost 14,000 SPC students visited a Learning Support Center during the Fall 2013, a 63 percent increase over last year, when 8,600 students came to a center. Total visits climbed to nearly 95,000, up from 68,988 during Fall 2012, as students took advantage of individual tutoring, workshops, small-group learning sessions and computer assistance.
“A full 62 percent of students who come to the learning centers do so as a routine part of their learning experience,” said Joe Leopold, Director of Learning Resources. “It’s part of what they do when they come to campus now.”
Leopold credited the increase in visits to SPC’s push from faculty and staff to get students the help they need. While many students came to simply use a computer, 9,609 came for help in one or more subject areas during the fall semester.
“The quality of our free tutoring is excellent,” Leopold said. “We are doing really great work and it shows.”
And students are responding, particularly to peer tutoring. According to recent survey results from Leopold’s office:
- 99 percent said they would return to a Learning Center
- 97 percent said they would recommend the Learning Center to other SPC students
- 94 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that tutors and other staff gave them enough help to be successful in their courses
According to one: “The tutors are absolutely amazing! I do not know how I would be managing my first semester of college without these guys!”
Math is, by far, the most common subject requested for tutoring, followed by writing and science. In all, more than 150 tutors offer instruction at 11 locations in nearly every subject at SPC.
Faculty members also spent more of their office hours in the Learning Centers this year. During Fall 2013, more than 130 full-time faculty spent 2,402 office hours in a Learning Center, up from 2,132 hours during Fall 2012.
Integrated Career and Academic Advising:
Research shows that students are more likely to be persistent and successful in their education if they have a clear career goal in mind. That’s why SPC intensified its integrated career and academic advising with students as they enter college for the first time.
About a third of the 3,468 first-time-in-college students at SPC in the Fall 2013 term indicated that they did not have a clear career goal. Advisors and career staff worked doggedly with those undecided students throughout the fall, and by the end of the semester, 84 percent of first-time-in-college students had identified a career path.
Most important, more than 80 percent of those with an identified career returned for the spring semester, compared to 69 percent of the undecided.
New Student Orientation:
In Fall 2012, the college moved from an online orientation to a mandatory face-to-face orientation for students considered most at risk.
In addition to covering all aspects of the College Experience, the hands-on activities in the new presentation were strategically designed to give students on all campuses a consistent experience navigating SPC’s web systems, including finding and reviewing tools available for out-of-class support and exploring academic programs and degree options.
First-time-in-college students who tested into one or more developmental classes for Fall 2013 were required to participate in the four-hour orientation.
The success rates for first-time-in-college students in Fall 2013:
- Developmental students who completed face-to-face orientation (considered more at risk for success) – 71.2 percent
- Students who did not test into developmental courses – 76.3 percent
- Overall success rate – 74.4 percent
“We feel confident our newly designed face-to-face Student Orientation is a positive step in preparing our new students for the rigors attending college brings,” said Lynda Womer, Seminole Associate Provost. “We throw a lot of information at them in a short period of time. We realize they may not retain all of it, but hopefully the next time they need to register or use the tutoring center or see a career counselor, they will have at least heard about the services SPC provides for students.”
In addition, 89.5 percent of students surveyed said the face-to-face Student Orientation prepared them for their first semester in college.
Early Alert/Student Coaching:
The SPC Early Alert system, which launched Fall 2012, identifies any student who is experiencing difficulty in class early in the term.
An instructor alerts an advisor, who contacts the student to identify any personal or academic problems and get necessary resources to the student. The student retains the same advisor throughout his or her time at the college.
The goal is to get students the support they need early in the term to keep them from withdrawing from the course. In Fall 2013, almost 90 percent of students remained enrolled after receiving an Early Alert. More than 1,998 early alerts were issued to 1,497 individual students that term.
Phil Nicotera, Provost at the Health Education Center, attributes the increased student retention to a combination of several College Experience initiatives.
The Early Alerts now are primarily used in developmental courses and in the “gateway” classes, the first most students take as they begin their studies. The goal is to eventually have Early Alerts in every class at SPC, Nicotera said. He identified several findings from the fall term that will help improve the system:
- The highest recipient group for early alerts are students ages 19-21.
- Two-thirds of all students who have received alerts have since used out of class support.
My Learning Plan:
My Learning Plan is an online tool that allows students to map out the order in which they will take courses several terms in advance.
In the Fall 2013 term, nearly 11,650 students became users of the My Learning Plan tool by entering at least one term into their learning plans. By comparison, 11,660 students competed at least one term in the entire 2012-13 academic year.
The bottom line is that students with a plan are more successful. For Fall 2013, the first-time-in-college students who used My Learning Plan to outline their courses for at least one term in advance had a 78 percent success rate. Those who did not had a success rate of 69 percent.
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