(#54) College Completion: Asking the Right Questions

While in Austin, Texas last week, I took part in a focus group conducted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Thirteen invited guests, along with the facilitator, explored the question of how to increase community college persistence/graduation rates. For the foundation, this continues to be a part of an ongoing initiative that has been examining how to help more students achieve post-secondary success.

The Gates Foundation website maintains:

A high school education is not enough to compete in today’s global economy.
Yet by age 30 most Americans have not earned a college degree or certificate.
Our Postsecondary Success Strategy aims to dramatically increase the number
of young adults who complete their postsecondary education, setting them up
for success in the workplace and in life. 


Actually, the goal can be viewed as such:

(1) Graduate All High School Students College Ready


(2) Help All Young People Get Degrees That Count


Helping Young People Reach Their Potential

As we ate dinner, the conversation touched on issues of vital importance to the future of our students–and the future of our nation.  Some of the topics:

  • Promoting effective approaches to developmental education (core competencies)
  • Establishing clear pathways to completion
  • Supporting and helping promising practices get to significant scale
  • Training excellent teachers (Are the faculty “college ready”?)
  • Improving reading levels (a major predictor in success)
  • Evaluating planning and pedagogy
  • Using technology effectively (and with purpose)
  • Identifying the “right” tools that can support faculty to help students.

One of the questions posed was “What does a system that helps students “start right” look like?”

I proposed we think of the topic from a different point of view.

Borrowing a strategy from Josh Linkner’s book Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, let’s look at this from the opposing perspective. Let’s ask ourselves, What does a system that hinders students from starting right look like?  That is, if we were to purposely develop an educational system whose main objective was to keep students from getting a degree, what would it look like?

One can immediately think of a number of obstacles that can stand in the way of students either entering or completing their post-secondary programs. For instance, road blocks can be posted in

  • Applying for admittance
  • Taking placement tests
  • Securing financial aid
  • Navigating the advising process
  • Meeting with professors
  • Juggling family demands
  • Keeping a job
  • Developing meaningful and disciplined habits of academic and student success

And the list can and does go on. 

From here, we need to ask ourselves three simple questions:

1. What do we need to stop doing?

2. What do we need to keep doing?

3. What do we need to start doing?

I propose we use these three very simple questions to examine all aspects of the college process on our campuses.  Whether it is financial aid, the business office, the student center, the testing center, the classroom, or faculty offices, these three questions can lead us in positive directions–directions that will improve our students’ opportunities.  Now, they still need the “will” to achieve. We can help them with the “how.”

©2011. Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog.

About stevepiscitelli

Community Advocate-Author-Pet Therapy Team Member
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1 Response to (#54) College Completion: Asking the Right Questions

  1. Pingback: A Blogger’s Retrospective: 2011 in Review « Steve Piscitelli's Blog

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