Friday, November 12, 2010

Student Success

As the President of Berkeley College, along with my peers in other colleges and universities, I recognize that one of the most perplexing problems that colleges encounter these days is that of student retention and student success: How can we keep our students in school until they complete their degrees?"

The great majority of college students don't enroll with the intention of abandoning their studies after a quarter or two. But the unfortunate reality is that many do. Some find that the pressure of pursuing a degree while having to work and care for a family is too overwhelming. Others have difficulty connecting with college life and feeling welcome in an unfamiliar environment. Still others encounter practical obstacles such as lack of transportation or childcare or an inability to manage their finances in a way that makes their goal of a college degree attainable.

The numbers indicate that on average, students pursuing an associate degree take three years to earn their diplomas, while those studying for a bachelor's degree take six years.

To a struggling student, the idea that persistence will one day pay off can seem hard to believe. The risk of losing focus and dropping out is greatest in the freshman year, when the challenges of acclimating to an unfamiliar environment can magnify any obstacle that arises. It is then, starting with the first day, that we need to make our students aware that they are not in this alone; that our administrators, faculty and associates are fully invested in their success.

At Berkeley College we need to be aware of the obstacles that stand in the way of our student's progress, and respond in innovative ways that have the potential to transform those problems into opportunities for success.

We have already made some great strides in the direction of student success and retention. Through our financial literacy program, we help students navigate the financial aid process and avoid the risk of defaulting on a student loan. And in Manhattan, we have established 'a home away from home' where military veterans enrolled at Berkeley College can connect with other enrolled veterans. Also in the summer of 2010, we piloted developmental education learning communities for students who placed into developmental reading/writing courses. These communities are also being offered this fall quarter and will be assessed during the winter 2011 quarter to determine their effectiveness and how they can be improved.

On all of our campuses, our athletic and extracurricular activities provide additional opportunities for our students to connect to the learning community here at Berkeley College and explore their interests beyond the classroom. These programs represent the kind of creative thinking that gives our students a support system that increases the likelihood of their staying in school.

Our faculty and associates play a critical role in creating a warm and welcoming learning environment that recognizes our students as the individuals they are. When a problem arises, our students need to know that we want to help them resolve it. Our task is to build relationships that extend beyond the classroom, so that our students can be confident that no problem they face on the path to their degree is insurmountable; that the college community is not only willing, but eager to help them resolve their issues and successfully complete their degrees.

Let us work together to find innovative solutions to the very real challenges our students face. We must make sure that our students feel fully welcome, and fully served. Please share your innovative approach to building more effective retention solutions and graduation efforts for Berkeley College students on our Comments page below.


Dario A. Cortes PhD
Berkeley College


  1. My Justice Studies students typically do not enjoy statistics, but one stat that I have shared with them recently to encourage them to stay in school is the relationship between "education & income" (stats from the US Census). On average, students who graduate with their undergraduate degree earn $1 million dollars more (over their lifetime) than the average high school graduate. There are similar reports on "job satisfaction", but I think students appreciate money, more than job satisfaction (at this stage in their life). Report is here if anyone is interested.

  2. Thanks for these great and heartfelt comments Dr.Cortes! I have been teaching at the college level for about 10 years. It truly is my passion and destiny to help others achieve greatness through education. As a Professor, it is my duty to ensure that several things take place in my classrooms so that I am tackling the issue of rentention and student success. These concepts are Educate, Engage, Empower and Effectiveness. I called them my 4 E's of Student Success. Educating means truly delivering the highest level of material in the classroom, brining in outside research and I, too, must also stay educated. Engagement is another key component to Student Success. Students must be engaged through various teaching strategies and techniques. We can't just teach & test anymore. We must use various methods such as games,writing assignments, experiential learning & much more to keep students engaged which generates more enthusiasm. Empower! Now, empowerment can be done in many ways. As a Professor, I must empower students to take advantage of all the resources on campus, empower them to stay in class, come to class & reach for greatness. Effectiveness is the true component of Student Success. This focuses on the "measurement" aspect of learning and determines how well the students retain information and is this information going to help them in the workplace. I truly love teaching and I have found that using these 4 key principles can aid in the students understanding of the importance of a College Degree. There are so many issues outside the classroom, in family life and in the student's past that we must realize the environment of educating has changed and our students are more diverse with colorful and cultural backgrounds. Thanks for allowing us to share our thoughts!

  3. The first posted comment is "right-on" and similarly shared by most if not all teachers on a constant basis. That is, always praising the students for being in college as the way to get ahead in life, both economically and intellectually to enjoy more out of life.
    At the same time, I have observed that many students in my classes - I teach the basic Accounting courses (among others) which are required courses for most business majors, so most of these students are NOT Accounting majors - are just entering the College environment. Many do not understand the transition that they have made and that they are no longer "brething High School" (esp. if they just came from a year of "senioritis"!). They lack the discipline and understanding of what it takes to be successful in college. What this translates to is, as an example only, that many do not even acquire their text books until the third week of the Quarter. Given a structured course such as Accounting, and given a 12 week term, then such students have in effect "shot themselves in the foot" and are off to a poor start. These students are then likely to struggle continuously, do poorly, even if they pass the course, and have a poor impression of the college environment and are therefore likely to drop out.
    This observation might therefore suggest that the first two Quarters or so of a student's experience at Berkeley be structured to "ease" the student into college, and to avoid their hitting the wall. They should NOT be encouraged to take difficult courses "just to get them done with" since they might not yet be ready for the discipline required.
    A similar observation is that the math and language required for a course such as Accounting might also be difficult for the young and entering student. Besides providing another reason for students not to be directed/allowed to take Accounting in their first year, perhaps it suggests that all students should be automatically enrolled in the Academic Support services and to continue in such assistance until they obtain perhaps, as an example only, a 2.5 GPA to show that they can "fly" on their own.
    Just some thoughts. It is appreciated that you continuously work on this issue of how to best fit students into their new, college, environment.