Students Finishing What They Start: NICC Efforts Getting Results

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New initiatives and efforts by Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) faculty and staff members that engage students, along with a customized approach that focuses on students’ individual career pathways and needs, are contributing to higher enrollment and retention among students.

From fall 2012 to fall 2013, the percentage of students who either graduated or returned the following fall semester increased from 47 percent to 56 percent, a nine percentage point increase. During that same time period, enrollment increased from 5,018 to 5,201 students, and NICC has set a goal to increase retention an additional two percent as part of its ongoing commitment to student access
and success.

We want to bring students to Northeast Iowa Community College and help them to persist in their academic programs and graduate, so they may pursue family-sustaining careers.

Enrollment at the College remains equally strong in respect to community members who enroll in classes and programs through NICC Business and Community Solutions, the College’s continuing education and economic development division. During fiscal years 2012-2013, Business and Community Solutions enrollment increased six percent from 21,186 to 22,544 unique students. These students accounted for more than 39,000 course registrations.

NICC President Liang Chee Wee, Ph.D., attributes the growth to the College’s efforts to engage students and understand each student’s individual circumstances – especially situations that may prompt their withdrawal
from NICC.

“When students come to apply for financial aid, for example, our staff members build a relationship with them to understand the problems or issues a particular student and his or her family are facing. Students often have problems with transportation, child care or finding housing,” Dr. Wee stated. “Every student has different circumstances; NICC is not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

The percentage of students at NICC who attend part time has increased 12 percent since 2010 and now comprises more than 43 percent of students enrolled on campus. According to the recent Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), more than half of all NICC students work more than 21 hours per week, and work responsibilities often influence a student’s decision to stay enrolled and complete a degree.

“There are four key pieces in the cycle of our success with students – recruitment, retention, completion and employment. We want to bring students to Northeast Iowa Community College and help them to persist in their academic programs and graduate, so they may pursue family-sustaining careers,” Dr. Wee explained. “Some of our part-time students are working two to three part-time jobs, but the jobs they have are not sustaining them and their families. We want to retain students to complete their programs at NICC and to secure meaningful employment.”

To meet other retention goals, the College implemented several new initiatives, including required program orientations, the development of a persistence intervention team to reach at-risk students in their first term and the integration of enrollment specialists and career coaches to provide seamless transitions for students at NICC.

Enrollment specialists and career coaches at the College’s campuses and center locations provide students with customized assistance, one-one-one financial aid counseling and more individualized career advising as they move from non-credit to credit programs or from adult education and literacy programming to
credit programs.

Beginning in fall 2014, NICC is piloting a mandatory College Experience course to help students identify and follow through on their academic and career goals, understand college academics and expectations, and introduce students to services on campus that can provide additional assistance as they work toward completing their program. The course will provide extra support to NICC students, 36 percent of whom are first-generation college students, meaning neither parent has attended education and training beyond high school.

Because the majority of NICC students are also low-income – 56 percent of credit students qualified for need-based federal PELL grants and 80 percent applied for some type of financial aid in 2013 – the college froze tuition and fees for the 2013-2014 academic year to reduce costs to students. NICC is looking for ways to freeze tuition again for the 2014-2015 year.

“The trend we see is when the economy is doing well, our enrollment tends to go down; people have more access to jobs, although they are not always quality jobs. When the economy is not doing well, people come to us,” said Dr. Wee. “What we believe at NICC is that everyone should invest in his or her education and training during a healthy economy, not only when the economy turns south. A college degree and additional training leads to a better financial future.”

For more information on the services available at NICC, and additional resources for students, visit www.nicc.edu/studentresources.

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