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PCC Working to Improve Student Retention

Students exit the Charles Russell Building after classes have ended.

WINTERVILLE—After months of planning, Pitt Community College is preparing to pilot a program this summer aimed at improving student retention through increased personal contact.

The program – called “Way to Success” – calls upon employee “success coaches” to mentor students who have been identified by retention alert software as potentially benefitting from early intervention.

Joanne Ceres, PCC director of enrollment management/registrar, said the need for better retention at the college is clear. She noted that between the Fall 2011 and Fall 2012 semesters, PCC’s retention rate for all registered students was a little above 48 percent.

“This means we lost more than half of our students within one year,” Ceres said.

A closer look at the enrollment stats revealed that smaller cohorts within the college had significantly better retention rates. Ceres pointed to the PCC TRiO program’s 56 percent retention rate and the Minority Male Mentoring program’s 51.7 percent rate as supporting research that shows personal contact with students helps lead to educational success.

“We’re excited to begin piloting Way to Success at PCC, because it fits perfectly with the college’s strategic plan, which calls for an increase in our students’ transfer and graduation rates,” Ceres said. "This initiative will allow us to be more proactive in reaching out to students before they get into real trouble academically."

Ceres said Way to Success is modeled after the “Journey to Success” program utilized by the Dallas County Community College District in Texas. The program’s software system, she said, will allow for better information sharing about students among PCC faculty, staff and success coaches.

Employees who volunteer to serve as success coaches will mentor between four and six students each. They will receive training and a list of campus resources they can use to refer students who need additional assistance.

“Our success coaches will not offer counseling; we have staff at the college for that,” Ceres said. “Instead, they’ll provide a friendly face at PCC, a go-to person for the students they mentor.”

Implementation of Way to Success began in the fall of 2012 with the formation of a committee comprised of representatives from all areas of the college, including continuing education.

Ceres said committee members helped establish rules for the retention alert software in order to best target students. She said they considered a number of factors, including courses in which students typically struggle, grade point averages, consecutive class absences, and passing rates for students receiving financial aid.

“Having worked in higher education for many years, we are aware of many of the barriers students must overcome in order to complete their educational goals,” Ceres said. “The committee wanted to ensure that the retention alert software could effectively identify students who likely could use a little extra help in overcoming these obstacles.”

Ceres said the goal now is to recruit 20 success coaches and develop training for them in order to pilot Way to Success this summer with students enrolled in specific classes.

“Retention is everyone’s responsibility,” Ceres said, adding that plans are to launch Way to Success campus-wide this fall with 75 success coaches in place.