Our Changing and Challenging Role on the Road to Student Success: Kevin Pollock Opens the 2012 AACRAO Transfer Conference

Kevin Pollock,* President of St. Clair Community College (MI), opened the AACRAO Transfer conference in Chicago on July 1 with a presentation on “Our Changing and Challenging Role on the Road to Student Success.”  He spoke of the changes we face on national, state and local levels as well as from inside our institutions; and he pointed out the opportunities student service professionals have to influence our institutions. We can also help other leaders, including our presidents, to understand strategic enrollment management and our institutions’ potentials to advance student success.

We are in positions to play major roles by examining the institutional processes and procedures through which students must pass, through the students’ eyes, and pointing out to colleagues the effects these procedures have on students’ progression.  By keeping our focus on student success, whether success towards the student obtaining a credential or degree or some other goal, and by using our own wise “common sense” to help improve retention and connect students to college, we can best steer our institutions and our students in the right direction.

A few figures provide perspective on the changing needs of the students we serve in the U.S.: Four of 10 go to college part-time.  Only a quarter of them are full-time, traditional students; the rest juggle multiple responsibilities and are commuting to class. A third transfer at least once in five years.  More than a quarter of today’s students cross state lines when they transfer.  As more students gain access to college, especially community colleges, more need remediation—but often do not get it.  Remedial students are less likely to graduate, at 35.1 percent, than are non-remedial students, at 55.7 percent.

The changes and pressures through which we must see clearly to these student’s perspectives come from outside and inside our institutions.  On the national level, P20—a smooth flow through the entire education system from prekindergarten through college and beyond—has become a rallying cry. Also nationally, President Obama began an initiative to improve measures of student success, and community college leaders have advanced a specific “completion agenda,” with which Pollock is involved.  At all levels funding cuts and calls for “accountability” strain our institutions and our students.

Progressive efforts to capitalize on and cope with recent developments such as increased transfers, reverse transfers, dual enrollments, virtual learning and financial pressures have created new questions.  On a practical level, for example, as we try to smooth the transfer of credits, ease students’ mobility, and improve the accuracy of graduation rates and other statistics, what institution gets credit for a graduate? Why does a class not transfer?  Are programs in 2-year and 4-year colleges aligned, so that students can complete a preliminary degree before transferring to obtain another degree? Should the transcript be standardized? 

In closing, Pollock encouraged us to take the lead, speak, use data, and help others understand what student success is about; and to examine our customer service and assess how well students get through the maze of admissions, registration, financial aid, advising—all that affects our students—and how we track their academic success. “Do the right thing for the right reason,” and when in doubt, take the perspective of the student. 


*Under Kevin Pollock’s leadership, St. Clair Community College joined Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count, a national organization to help community colleges identify strategies to increase retention, persistence and completion rates. He recommends “Keeping America’s Promise: A report on the future of the community college,” a joint project of the Education Commission of the States and the League for Innovation in the Community College.  He advocates the National Community College Benchmark Projects, which is a comprehensive national data collection and reporting system for two-year colleges; and the student completion challenge spearheaded by the American Association of Community Colleges.