Nearly two years after restructuring, MCCC has seen slight increases in
its enrollment and graduation rates.
Wang credits a portion of this uptick
to the streamlining of programming
and services, but she knows the work is
far from complete. Nor is she alone, as
community colleges across the nation
are redesigning their educational
infrastructure to better orient and
guide students toward completion.
"We saw the challenges faced by
schools these days as an opportunity
to innovate," Wang says. "It was an
impetus for innovations we never even
KEEPING IT TOGETHER
Service and accountability form the
basis of MCCC's new foundation, notes
Wang. Changes start at the front end
of the student experience, with receptionists trained to field basic administrative questions about financial aid,
registration and other topics. All staff
members are asked to help students
with directions on campus, in some
cases literally walking them from the
parking lot to their destination.
"This is part of a cultural change,"
Wang says. "If we don't innovate, we'll
get the same results we've always
gotten, which is not what we want."
Raising the school's retention rates—
only about 14 percent of MCCC attendees
stay with the school to completion—
means easing the complex pathway
from entry to graduation. For example,
advising systems that had previously
been organized by last name are now
categorized into clusters based on a
learner's background or study program.
Today, military veterans, would-be
health professionals and dual enrollment students all have their own easily
Advisors place cluster data into a
newly installed tracking system that is
then transferred to professors, giving
them critical information about a
student before they ever step into a
classroom. Meanwhile, color-coded
course tracks create clearly defined
outcomes for learners unsure of what
classes they need to graduate, a game
plan bolstered by an Amazon-like
"shopping cart" of suggested courses
assembled by an academic advisor.
Lending coherence to course selection
is particularly important in the reten-
tion of community college enrollees, a
significant number of whom are adults
with children and other responsibilities,
or sometimes leave school midsemes-
ter because of family emergencies or
changes in employment.
"Many of these people are first-generation college students who don't
know the system," Wang says. "With our
new structure, we have advisors reaching out to students to tell them what
they need to do."
About 1,200 U. S. community colleges
enroll more than 12 million students
each year, comprising nearly half of
the nation’s undergraduates. Yet fewer
than 40 percent of entrants complete
an undergraduate degree within six
years, according to the 2015 book,
“Redesigning America’s Community
Colleges,” which posits the need
for wholesale changes in the way
two-year schools operate.
To answer that dilemma, even
long-established entities are rethinking
the ways they organize study programs,
support services and instruction. Enter
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community
College (MGCCC), a century-old
institution providing 10,000 learners on
10 campuses and student centers with
workforce training and academics at a
Like many community colleges,
MGCCC is dealing with static or declining funding that is unable to keep up
with rising student enrollment. In
2000, the school's per-student budget
was about $4,500; today that figure
hovers at $4,250.
"Due to decreased support, we've
been forced to raise tuition," says
MGCCC Vice President Jonathan
Woodward. "We're always working
on finding operational and academic
efficiencies to stabilize cost."
That effort redoubled in recent
years when MGCCC transformed its
105-year-old student services model
to a systemic approach that officials
say is streamlined, centralized and
self-contained. Budgetary issues are
one reason for the change, but an
easier-to-digest intake process is seen
as another amenity for a generation
expecting customization in all levels
of the college experience.
"Millennials and 'Generation Z'
want more services outside of the
classroom," Woodward says. "We
came up with our 'organic redesign'
as a response. Students are supported
from recruitment through intake, all
the way through graduation. There
are institutions fighting for these
students. We want them to have an
incredible time here from a customer
MGCCC's new admissions process
IF WE DON’T INNOVATE, WE’LL GET THE SAME
combines services that had remained
RESULTS WE'VE ALWAYS GOTTEN, WHICH IS
NOT WHAT WE WANT.”
JIANPING WANG, president, Mercer County Community College