By Clint McElroy, Dean for Retention Services at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, NC
NGLC’s first wave of funding was all about scaling proven innovations in higher education, and my institution, Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC, had a strong innovation ready to go when we received our funding in April 2011. With a 2003-2008 Title III grant, we developed a solution to address the retention of at-risk students, the Online Student Profile (OSP). Our NGLC project involved deploying the OSP, related faculty and staff development activities, and assessment of its effectiveness (conducted by the Center for Applied Research). The goal was to improve retention at six other colleges in and beyond our own state.
In all three of the areas involved in scaling the OSP to partner campuses—transferring the technology, training faculty and staff in its use, and getting thousands of students to use it over the course of a single year—our success exceeded our best expectations. Indeed, we exceeded all of our scaling-related benchmarks for the grant with 289 faculty and staff at partner colleges trained and over 8,000 students using the OSP system. Along the way, we learned a thing or two about the transferability of the institutional culture change we’d experienced.
Since its inception in 2004, the OSP technology and the practices and systems allied with its use have influenced CPCC’s culture in a number of ways, most importantly by bridging institutional silos that, for example, separated faculty from student advising and counseling staff. Having experienced this institutional culture change ourselves, we wondered how the cultures at our partner colleges would affect the success of their implementation of the OSP. Would implementation and use of the OSP have the kind of cultural impact at partner campuses that it had at CPCC?
Our partners, we felt, had much to gain, based on our own results from implementing the OSP. Developmental students at CPCC participating in the full OSP system (orientation course, developmental reading and/or writing with an instructor trained in the system, and participation in learning style and personality assessments) are retained and are successful at much higher levels than students who do not participate or do not fully participate. From 2004 to 2009, students participating in all elements of the OSP system were more likely to complete their courses; persist to the next term, earn an A, B, or C; and earn a college degree. We hoped our partners would ultimately achieve similar results.
Addressing Issues of Institutional Culture via Professional Development
CPCC employed a Train-the-Trainer model to maximize the number of faculty and staff at the partner colleges who would be trained in the use of the OSP. Additionally, the college developed and distributed six fully online, video and graphics-based OSP training modules for faculty and staff to reduce the need for in-person training sessions.
Training of faculty and staff from the partner colleges took place as outlined in the original proposal, but the amount of time for collaboration among participants varied widely. Partners reported high levels of involvement and excitement among faculty and staff, but it takes time for changes to become a part of institutional culture. When the OSP was implemented at CPCC, the college completed nearly a year of planning by faculty and staff prior to the first semester of implementation and still saw only modest student success gains the first year. We attempted to address this institutional culture issue for the 72 faculty, staff, and administrators from partner colleges who attended our first in-person training in May 2011. In addition to presenting information about the OSP and its CPCC implementation and letting them get their hands on the system, we emphasized in that first training how we saw we needed to change the way we work with students in order to get the full benefits of using the OSP. A few examples:
- Faculty members worked in teams to find ways to integrate student success content into their developmental reading and writing courses which would complement and expand upon what students learn in student success courses;
- Counselors and advisors served as resources to faculty members in the integration of student success content into courses and also served as direct resources to students, going to classes to provide in-depth presentations on OSP-related topics, such as what students might do with the results of the Myers-Briggs personality inventory (for example, if you are an ENTP, how might that knowledge inform your career exploration);
- Advisors adopted lessons they learned from faculty in designing group advising sessions for students, during which large numbers of students are taught advising-related content, ask questions as they would in a classroom environment, and are encouraged to help and learn from one another.
What we found in informal conversations with our NGLC partners was that the more rigid the institutional culture was – with well-defined roles for faculty and staff – the more resistance there was to implementing the OSP as it had been done at CPCC. This was something we expected and had addressed in our grant proposal, but when looking at scaling of technology-based or other innovations to promote student success, it is clear that cultural limitations (some of them structural, as in the case of college employees with contracts that strictly define what they can and cannot do as members of a certain job category) are a major consideration when planning a multi-institution scaling project.
Additionally, it became clear to our team that the organic type of collaboration that inventing and then implementing the OSP and its related practices could not fully occur at the partner colleges because they were receiving an existing product rather than building their own.
That said, for our second in-person round of training in October of 2011, we asked the participants from our partner colleges to be the trainers and teach us and the people from the other partner colleges what they had learned and how they were using the OSP.
The level of excitement at that second round of training was palpable. As opposed to the fairly passive response to the CPCC’s presentations at the first training, the participants were fully engaged – excited to share their own innovations and how they had begun to make the OSP their own, in the context of their colleges’ environments and needs.
One lesson I learned from my participation in this challenging, time-intensive process is that in order to scale an innovation from one college to others, the end users at the receiving colleges have to be asked to be innovators themselves. Giving them a product and asking them to use it exactly the way it has been used at the originating institution may be a possibility, but it will not light the fire of invention in them.
Since the end of our NGLC grant period in July of 2012, over 20 additional colleges have adopted use of the totally free, open-source OSP – which we have recently redubbed the “Success@” system. The new name signifies that here at CPCC, we will use it in ways that will promote students “Success@CPCC.” And when other colleges adopt the system, they can learn lessons from us and our NGLC partners, but, in the end, they will make it their own: Success@your college’s name here.
For a more thorough overview of the OSP and its implementation, see our case study from the Game Changers book published by EDUCAUSE and an article about our project from The Chronicle of Higher Education. To learn more about our NGLC project, including a list of our partner colleges, see our grantee page.
Over the past nine years the Online Student Profile (now called “Success@”) system has grown from a small internally developed solution to a platform supporting thousands of students at institutions across the entire United States. Originally funded by a Title III grant, the system most recently was expanded through a Next Generation Learning Challenge grant from the Gates Foundation. Even today enhancements continue to be made to the system. In the next six months a new version of the system will be released supporting the inclusion of the MAP initiative (originally developed at Sinclair Community College) as well as integration with a student scheduling system. Code and information about the Online Student Profile system may be found at http://code.google.com/p/osp
Clint McElroy is Dean for Retention Services at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, NC. He earned his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In addition to managing CPCC's First Year Student program, TRiO Program, and Tutoring Centers, he chairs CPCC's Retention Committee and Student Intake Steering Committee. He served as project manager for the Title III grant that led to the development of the Online Student Profile system and as the project leader for the NGLC-funded scaling of the OSP to six partner colleges.