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OCCC makes bold changes to improve student success

    (Published: 03-05-20)

OCCC Student Success Advising staff members gather around a large promotional "8"

Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) students are benefiting from changes made across the college to increase student success and help more students achieve their college degrees. At the recent OCCC Board of Regents meeting, the results of changes to the college’s advising model were evident and excitement continues to grow for the shift to predominantly 8-week classes in the upcoming fall semester.

“If you wanted to get in shape, you would start off by running short distances—the small successes push you forward to the goal,” said Dr. Jeremy Thomas, vice president for Student Affairs. “The 8-week term format allows students to see the finish line and keeps the end goal of earning their degree in sight; Student Success Advisors coach and encourage students along the way.”

In 2019, OCCC made a significant change to the student-advising model. The move lowered the ratio of students to a single advisor from 1000 to one to 350 to one. Students are assigned a Student Success Advisor to encourage more meaningful communication.

“One of the raps against higher education is that we are not open to change and can't move fast enough to do it—that does not happen here,” said OCCC Board of Regents Chair Devery Youngblood. “We identify problems and move on them. What is on the line is so important we have to; we cannot just sit around, wait and see.”

Student Success Advisors receive increased training that allows them to specialize in degree program areas and concerns unique to specific groups of students. The new advising model also encourages advisors to coach students in financial literacy and academic life skills. At present, 7,000 OCCC students have been assigned a Student Success Advisor.

According to early college data, students who have been assigned to a Student Success Advisor are more likely to stay in college—more than 6% over their peers.

“We have tackled this issue with a vengeance, and I think it's paying off,” said OCCC President Jerry Steward. “Increasing the number of Student Success Advisors took some reallocation of resources. It’s one thing to say it; it's another thing to take the money and put it where we need it.”

Student feedback has been positive. One student remarked, “My advisor was extremely helpful in every way and even shared very valuable information with me. I felt as if he cared and was actually trying to help me be successful for this semester and for the rest of my college career. I am very happy and will definitely be going back when it comes time to enroll again.”

More positive changes are coming for OCCC students. Beginning fall 2020, OCCC is switching the bulk of classes from 16-week semesters to 8-week terms. OCCC will be the first college in Oklahoma to make this switch, which is designed to give students more flexibility.

The change will allow students to enroll in two 8-week terms during the first half of the traditional 16-week semester and two more during the second half of the semester. Students will continue to be classified as full-time and will still qualify for financial aid. The change will also allow students to complete classes quicker and may help motivate them to finish their degrees.

Currently, about 20% of courses at OCCC are taught in eight weeks. The college has more than 10 years of data showing students enrolled in 8-week courses have consistently outperformed their peers enrolled in 16-week classes.

“For the spring semester, we didn't schedule as many 16-week classes, and we canceled low enrollment 16-week classes. At the same time, we had to add more 8- week classes,” said Greg Gardner, vice president for Academic Affairs. “The demand is there; our students are shifting toward the 8-week format. They are moving that direction.”

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