Mar 13th, 2019
Jackson State Community College representative Brian Gann spoke at the Achieving the Dream (ATD) Conference last month regarding successful strategies implemented across the campus to assist adult learners in the first two semesters of TN Reconnect. The state-wide initiative provides adult learners over the age of 24 with the opportunity to earn an associate degree tuition-free.
Gann, Jackson State's vice president for student services, spoke on a panel along with representatives from Southwest Tennessee Community College and Complete Tennessee in February at the annual ATD Conference. The conference brings community colleges from across the nation together to discuss how to better serve its underrepresented populations. Ahead of the fall 2018 launch of TN Reconnect, Jackson State began to prepare for the inevitable increase in students and the unique challenges that would come with this new population. The institution focused its efforts on enrollment management, which helps students who are enrolled persist toward a degree or certificate.
To do this, Jackson State hired a team of Completion Coaches through grant funding to provide wraparound services to students throughout the year; upon enrollment each student is assigned a coach and an academic advisor. The advisor must be met with each semester to ensure the student is moving toward graduation with the correct course loads and requirements. The coaches assist with everything in between, like answering questions about where things are on campus, linking them to community and college resources, and helping them navigate the often difficult journey of being a college student.
Another change was the move to a Monday/Wednesday, Tuesday/Thursday class schedule as well as offering more online and evening courses to better accommodate those with jobs and other obligations. Additionally more than two dozen information sessions were held for prospective Reconnect students in locations around its 14-county service area beginning in spring 2018; staff members were on-hand to answer questions and provide assistance with admission requirements. The campus also expanded its student needs-based services to provide necessities such as food, coats, toiletries and school supplies as well as emergency funds throughout the year.
The results of these efforts have been promising. Reconnect brought an adult student increase of nearly 28% this fall from the previous year. Jackson State has seen a staggering 79.9% retention rate of those students coming back this spring, more than 12% above the retention rate of non-Reconnect adult students. Gann says the institution will continue to expand current offerings and seek out opportunities to assist student success in the future.