“College Issues Day:” Defining success at BC

On Oct. 9, campus was closed while BC faculty and staff were asked to participate in discussing a plan for student success at College Issues Day. The day was planned by the college’s Office of Effectiveness and Strategic Planning. The Office’s mission, stated on its webpage, is to “promote student learning and to ensure institutional effectiveness through anticipating and communicating emerging issues affecting the college community and generating relevant statistical information to support college-wide, data-driven decision-making.”

The topic of the day was comprised of two parts: defining what the college wanted to see as a plan for student success, and discussing how to realize that plan. Interim President Laura Sanders was originally scheduled to make an opening presentation which contained data about student success here at BC, but opted instead to participate in the interviewing of BC presidential candidates (which was scheduled to take place all day Oct. 9.) Tom Nielsen, Vice President of Instruction, gave the presentation in lieu of Sanders. Some of the data presented concerned student success rates in pre-college courses, general college courses and what Nielsen calls “attainment of credentials,” which, in Nielsen’s words, is “a broader way of saying degrees, but we several kinds of degrees as well as certificates.”

Earning credentials, added Nielsen, is but one measure of success here at BC. Indeed, not all enrolled students are actively pursuing a degree. According to the ESP office’s statistics, available on its webpage on a document entitled, “Fall Students at a Glance,” 47.5 % of credit students in the fall of 2010 (the most recent quarter with available figures) were pursuing a transfer degree. 31.6 % were pursuing a professional-technical degree and 21% were listed as having “other” reasons for attending.

“We have people who come here to learn English…that’s success if that person learns to speak English. We have students who come here because they’ve been through school and they have a bachelor’s degree in something – or maybe even a master’s degree – but now they want to go to medical school and they didn’t follow a science track the first time around…but if they come here because we have great programs in those areas and a transcript from [BC] with anatomy and physiology on it means something to the University of Washington’s Medical School Admissions Officer, that’s a success, but it’s not a degree,” explained Nielsen. “It [Issues Day] was really all about stimulating people’s thought. What does it mean to be successful? ‘If I come here to BC what am I going to get out of it?’ ‘How will I think I’ve been successful?’ and part of that may be that my idea changes.”

Students are here for a variety of reasons. Student John Delplain has been attending BC for seven years. He has already received a certificate in early childhood education and is now pursuing a business transfer degree. “I wanted to do education, but then I wanted to change,” he said. Another student, John Sylvester, commented that he hoped to transfer to the UW to pursue a pharmacology degree.  Sylvester has been attending BC for almost two years now, and doesn’t feel like he is on schedule because he had to take a quarter off.

Figures for graduation rates at BC are available on the college’s public disclosure page (http://bellevuecollege.edu/legal/publicdisclosure/). Taken in 2003, a Federal Graduation Rate Survey of 519 students showed a total “combined transfer out/completion/graduation rate within three years” of 53.9%. These federal surveys however, only include a specific category of student: first time (no previous college), full time (12 credits or more) students who have explicitly declared their intent to pursue a degree. “This is how you get graduation rates in the 20% range or whatever the official number is,” said Nielsen, “The public…our community, wants data, they want results. They want to see something quantifiable…so we need to figure out how to describe in those kinds of terms what we can easily describe in dialogue, like I talked about different ways about what it means to different kinds of students to be successful.”

Students seeking more information should begin by inquiring at the aforementioned websites.