By CELESTE BOTT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Community colleges across the state are taking steps to increase involvement in each individual student’s education, including Macomb, Jackson, Lake Michigan, North Central and Grand Rapids community colleges.
They’re developing new education and career planning programs as well as offering a wider range of advising, tutoring and financial support services.
According to Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, those steps are being taken to change the reputation of community colleges from a last resort to a viable alternative to more expensive and less personal four-year universities.
“What we’ve really seen recently is a greater focus on student success,” Hansen said. “It can be hard to get a sense of a student’s identity in a community college setting because there are so many people coming in and often leaving very soon for four-year universities.
“We’re trying to intervene more, through counseling, contextual learning and paced programs,” he said.
The idea, Hansen said, is to make more students consider community college as a way to specifically design their degree program to fit their needs.
At Macomb Community College, part of that active involvement includes developing students’ skills for new job markets.
For example, the college’s Workforce and Continuing Education Department has begun to offer a series of social media classes to better prepare students for the modern workforce.
The college said those courses benefit all students, no matter their area of study.
“Not only has social media altered the meaning of terms such as ‘tweet’ and ‘post,’ it also has become an important marketing tool,” it said.
Any student can take these courses, which vary from social media basics to more in-depth studies of the use of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for business.
Other community colleges have created specific academic programs and foundations for students who meet certain criteria.
For example, Jackson Community College developed the TRiO Student Support Services Program, which offers exclusive workshops and guidance for students who may lack a support system while pursuing a degree.
According to Kevin Rose, TRiO project director, the program supports the success of students who speak limited English, belong to a minority group, have disabilities, are homeless or in foster care, or are first-generation college students.
“The TRiO staff works hard to build an atmosphere in which students feel accepted and comfortable,” Rose said. “We are passionate about the success of each student, helping to move them towards a certificate or degree.”
Grand Rapids Community College created the Academic Foundations Program, which director Linda Spoelman describes as a means to help students “learn how to learn,” especially if they need to further their reading, writing and mathematics skills to be college-ready.
The program shows students who have been identified by testing as having the potential to be successful in college and beyond how to learn in a college environment.
In addition, many potential students may be prepared academically, but don’t have the financial means to afford tuition, college officials say.
Lake Michigan Community College and Macomb are combating financial problems by piloting the Benefits Access for College Completion initiative.
The initiative provides financial support– including child care subsidies and food assistance – to low-income students so they can continue to afford to stay in school.
The three-year initiative will be evaluated to see if the participants remain enrolled and complete their programs on time.
Walter Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington, D.C., said that including health insurance, food, and child care in addition to financial aid would ensure that many students receive credentials and eventually find high-paying jobs.
“We applaud these colleges for taking an informed and proactive look at how they can help those students most in need of financial and public support to pursue their college and career goals while dealing with work and family pressures,” he said.
North Central Michigan College has also taken steps to help groups of students who face challenge in pursuing an education.
The college has taken a particular interest in military students and veterans in recent years, and for the first time was included on the Military Friendly Schools list for 2013.
The list, compiled by Victory Media – a media entity for military personnel transitioning into civilian life – showcases the top 15 percent of schools that are doing the most to assist America’s military service members and veterans.
“This is a great honor for North Central,” said President Cameron Brunet-Koch. “North Central Michigan College is committed to assisting veterans and their families with the educational benefits and resources they are entitled to receive.”
Jackson, Grand Rapids and Macomb community colleges are also on the list.
By CELESTE BOTT