SPOTLIGHT ON INNOVATION SERIES
The US Department of Education has awarded multi-million dollar “First in the World” grants to 24 colleges and universities that are innovating to solve critical challenges with access, recruitment, retention, and student success. At AI, we have interviewed each of the recipients to learn more about the projects these institutions are pursuing, how their approaches are unique, and what other colleges and universities can learn from these new efforts.
by Lisa Cook, Academic Impressions
Nearly 75 percent of Lee College’s students attend part-time because they need to schedule classes around their work schedules, and only 23 percent of Lee’s students complete an associates degree within four years. With a demand for skilled workers in the area, especially among the region’s petrochemical industries, Lee’s STEM Grant and Puente Project Coordinator Victoria Marron found herself asking the community college’s students, “Why are you part time? What obstacles are you facing? Let’s find a way to make you more successful.”
Lee will use the $2.7 million grant to respond to industry demand for skilled workers while addressing working students’ needs for flexible scheduling by providing four accelerated associate programs for full-time students in a Weekend College initiative.
A Close Look at Weekend College
To accommodate students’ work schedules, Lee’s Weekend College will hold classes on Friday evenings and Saturdays. Weekend College students will also have the option to block schedule classes, and will have access to blended courses. Weekend College is being offered for the associate of applied sciences and for associate of arts degree programs in general business, general transfer, welding, and computer maintenance.
Lee’s Weekend College also includes:
- A cohort model of 18 students into each of the four programs each year for the next three years.
- Classes offered in multiple locations to better serve student needs.
- 3-week and 8-week bridge courses to help students quickly move from developmental to credit courses.
- Learning communities, in which students are strategically placed so they can benefit from peer-to-peer mentorships.
Lee College expects that at least 43 percent of their Weekend College Students will complete their degrees within three years.
Keys to Success
Logistics issues will be the biggest challenge Lee faces in piloting the Weekend College. Marron explains that they will be moving the welding program to a newly renovated facility to better accommodate the program. In addition, because the Weekend College is more than a program that merely offers classes on the weekend, their planning needs to keep the cohort model front and center.
Another key to success is eliminating the financial burden for students, and Marron says Lee plans to address that on several fronts, including the possibility of industry sponsorships of equipment or textbooks.
Why You Should Watch this Project
Lee’s Weekend College has ambitious and exciting goals that reach beyond the four programs they are targeting with the grant. “We’re hoping to be able to get a better grasp as to what students need, but it also gives us insight into a lot of other technical fields as well,” Marron notes. It will also provide their students an economic advantage when finished.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to take their family from one whole socio-economic level and issues with they may be facing because they are just a helper or contractor making $11, 12, $13 an hour,” Marron explains. “You complete a two-year degree and you skyrocket. There’s a lot of opportunity there for them to be able to provide for their families.”