The American Association of Community Colleges is holding its conference in San Antonio, and the annual meeting often generates interesting news. Not surprisingly, much of the program centers upon raising the completion rates of students.
The goal of AACC is to graduate 50 percent more students with marketable credentials by 2020.
One of the topics covered at the convention, by Katherine Mangan in the Chronicle of Higher Education, involves "secret shoppers" dispatched by the Education Advisory Board, a consulting group based in Washington, who posed as students to check out what it's really like to enroll and attend classes at a community college.
"Secret shoppers" may be an unfortunate term. First came the student-as-consumer, which deteriorated quickly into the student-as-customer. Now we have the student-as-shopper, who apparently browses with no advance commitment whatsoever.
To their credit, the group got the permission of participant schools and made sure the fake students represented a cross section of community college demographics.
From the article:
The researchers’ conclusion? The process of applying, learning about financial aid, testing for college readiness, and signing up for classes is not nearly as linear as administrators like to believe, according to Sara Zauner, the Education Advisory Board’s practice manager.
“It’s more like a game of Chutes and Ladders,” she said. Sign up for classes late, and you’ll slide down a chute; find on-campus child care, and you’ll climb a ladder. Ms. Zauner plans to illustrate the meandering pathway in a replication of the children’s game she’ll play with attendees on Monday.
The researchers, who also interviewed hundreds of students, said some had been flummoxed by “administrator-speak,” struggling to translate unfamiliar terms like “Fafsa” or “bursar.” Some even missed classes because they didn’t know that "MWF" meant that the classes met Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Students often received conflicting advice from different offices, she said, and didn’t always realize that a quick review before taking the college-readiness test could prevent them from landing in a semester or more of remedial classes.