Helping ensure student success

Aug. 04, 2014 @ 12:19 PM

The story is all too familiar.

A young man or woman – or perhaps not so young – realizes that more than a high school education is necessary in today’s job market. He or she enrolls at a community college, that invaluable pathway to higher education for many students here and across the nation.

But the task proves too difficult. The student may not be ready academically or, more often, may not grasp what’s needed to succeed at the college level.

A semester or two into the program, the student drops out, probably never to return.

Durham Technical Community College is working hard to minimize, if not eliminate, those stories of dreams aborted.

Its First Year Experience Class helps new students learn the ins and outs of college life.  They learn good study habits, get help in clarifying their goals and receive important tips on how to achieve those goals.

“We’ve got students, for example, who know they want to study engineering at N. C. State,” said Gabrielle McCutchen, the assistant dean of student engagement and transitions who developed the course. “We help them figure out what kind of engineering, how do you get to N. C. State and how to make sure your classes transfer with you.”

Often, McCutchen said, students taking the course get a more realistic picture of the profession they may be envisioning. Sometimes, the course persuades them to change direction.

Durham Tech has been affiliated for more than a decade with Achieving the Dream, a national nonprofit focused on ensuring student success in higher education.

Achieving the Dream bluntly states the challenge on its website:

“Nearly one-half of all students seeking higher education choose a community college. Fewer than half of those students actually finish what they start.

“Community colleges remain the nation’s gateways to good jobs for millions of students who dream of a better tomorrow. Yet too often these dreams are cut short.

“For the first time in our history, the current generation of college-aged Americans will be less educated than their parents’ generation. Those without an education will be unable to compete in a national landscape that more than ever before demands high-level job skills.”

The problems may be exacerbated for students who borrow money to attend community college – then drop out with debt loads but little improvement in their earning capacity,

The Durham Tech course is meeting with considerable success in stemming the avoidable outflow of students. The most recent data indicate that 86 percent of the students in targeted, at-risk groups who took the first-year-experience course stayed in school, compared to barely half among those who did not.

“There’s a big difference between 58 percent and 86 percent,” McCutchen told The Herald-Sun’s Greg Childress last week.

And that means more students will have better, more stable lives because Durham Tech was determined to help them succeed.