By Dr. Barbara Hioco, CVHEC
What Works Now
Communication and collaboration are the keys to effecting change. At the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium (CVHEC), we’re focused on helping more students go to college and succeed. The collective energy of our 27 colleges and universities in the region is directed at removing barriers and opening doors. Educational attainment levels here are well below the state’s average. The Central Valley is the home of agriculture where farm workers often perceive college education as elusive for them and their children. Our goal: to create opportunity by creating and attracting programs, activities and grants to level the playing field.
Here are three initiatives designed to produce real change.
Common Core: Elaine Cash, educational consultant and Director, Closing the Gap Project, presented three workshops facilitated by CVHEC. She told K-12 and valley college administrators the new common core standards are “going to change the face of K-12 as students learn to make an argument and to think.” The workshops made it clear that communicating and collaborating across systems are essential. “Our job is to make sure our colleges and universities understand the structural and curricular challenge that is taking place at the K-12 level,” Ms. Cash added. “Working together to make this work is the new normal. It is imperative for student success. Systems are going to be held accountable at both levels by the state and future funding will be affected.” The workshops, held at CSU Stanislaus, CSU Bakersfield, and State Center Community College District this year, produced specific initiatives. For example, at high schools, 12th grade math courses would help bridge students to entry level college math so they have more assessment test consistency. In addition, college faculty would get professional development training so they find out what students are learning at the high school level and how they are learning differently under common core standards.
Common Assessment Testing: In response to the Student Success Act of 2012, nine community colleges in the Central Valley worked together to develop a common assessment placement test that includes diagnostics and is based on college curriculum. Currently there are hundreds of tests colleges can use, and each sets its own “cut scores” to determine how students are assessed for class placement. Students at different colleges taking the same test and achieving the same score can be assessed differently, one placed in a college level class, the other in a remedial course which adds to the time it takes to complete a program or earn a degree.
Faculty worked with a test vendor, McCann Associates, to develop blueprints for tests in reading, writing, math and English as a Second Language (ESL). The goal was to produce a common test which all California colleges could adopt, along with common cut scores for transfer level English and degree math. The actual tests were developed from the blueprints and have been field tested. The tests, and the data gathered in the field testing, are being submitted to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office for review and approval.
Consortium’s DOL Grant Extended: A $19.5 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant from the Department of Labor, designed to streamline job training throughout the Central Valley, is in its third year and will end October 2014. “The grant is aimed to prepare students in the Central Valley region to move more quickly and successfully into jobs,” said Connie Tan, a research specialist at the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy (IHELP) at California State University, Sacramento.
A subgroup of CVHEC community colleges has been collaborating under the grant and their efforts are being tracked extensively by IHELP. Those colleges are: Bakersfield College, Cerro Coso Community College, College of the Sequoias, Fresno City College, Merced College, Porterville College, Reedley College, San Joaquin Delta College, West Hills College Coalinga, and West Hills College Lemoore.
Tan said the grant “was a big lift for the lead district and the participating colleges to get off the ground, especially because the model being implemented has so many different parts.” Colleges have compressed the courses allowing students to acquire marketable skills in a short time and enter the job market sooner. Collaboration with industry partners has produced candidates for jobs that had been difficult to fill due to a shortage of skilled applicants. In addition to targeting the curriculum to industry needs, colleges are now using open educational sources to create online textbooks and making better use of technology. These help speed the educational process and provide targeted training while helping to lower costs to students. These shared models can be replicated statewide.
Under CVHEC’s guidance and commitment to communication and collaboration, important work is being done and change is on the way.
Dr. Hioco is Executive Director of the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium