Tulsa Community College has shown what it takes to show great results for students – investing in students.
TCC celebrates a milestone in graduating more students than ever before with 2,601 students graduating or credentialing in the past academic year. This sets a record and continues the trend of steadily increasing degrees in recent years.
Like almost all higher education institutions, student enrollment has been declining, especially since the pandemic. But, for students who attend TCC, they graduate at higher rates.
This happens with purposeful design, planning and investments.
TCC President and CEO Leigh Goodson said the college began putting more emphasis on student services seven years ago and seeking private funding to do so.
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It started with adding additional academic advisors and creating a Student Success Center on each campus. It was paid for as part of a $20 million completion campaign with financial support from private donors. The first centre, on its South-East Campus, opened in August 2019 with the support of the Voter-approved Vision Tulsa package.
These centers provide individualized services, removing barriers for students.
Reducing the student-advisor ratio improves customer service. Students can quickly access someone who can guide them to resources or answer questions. These centers are staffed to help students find tutors, get to a mental health professional, or navigate sometimes confusing bureaucracy.
These may be considered non-academic, but they are essential to keep students in school. Oklahoma needs more college graduates. About 26% of Oklahomans have a bachelor’s degree, below the national average of 33%.
Oklahoma has failed to land new businesses due to a lack of skilled workers. Additionally, graduates with an associate degree earn a median income 25% higher than someone with a high school diploma, reaching 75% more with a bachelor’s degree.
Earlier this year, Oklahoma Higher Education Chancellor Allison Garrett said two-thirds of the top 100 critical occupations over the next six years will require a college degree. Oklahoma ranks particularly low in terms of degrees in computer science and other STEM fields.
These results shouldn’t be surprising given how lawmakers have cut funds for higher education for more than a decade, from about $1 billion in 2008 to $770 million in 2021. colleges have raised tuition and cut things like student services and academic programs.
Common Education has gone through the same financial struggle, now starved to the point of a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. Per student spends it 46th nationally and the average teacher salary is 35th in the United States
Schools are cutting back on the courses needed by students heading to college because they can’t find qualified teachers, let alone provide student services like mental health.
Community colleges can help bridge high school academic gaps through concurrent enrollment. TCC recently expanded its High School Plus One, which offers 31 hours of online college credit, to eligible high school juniors and seniors throughout Oklahoma.
Since fall 2017, the number of TCC students in dual credit programs has grown from 1,768 to the current 2,490, an increase of 41%.
If a motivated student can’t get a foreign language or advanced math needed in their high school, then maybe TCC can provide that course.
This is not an ideal as districts must have enough resources to fully support students. But, state officials must fully ensure that public school districts comply with this legal obligation.
In addition, concurrent registrations still need to be funded. Thus, state officials will always need to invest in students, whether in community colleges or high schools.
The continued dismantling of public education goes hand in hand with the lack of college degrees and college readiness. Ultimately, this affects the economic prosperity of our state.
TCC’s focus on student services was a good one. It is a recognition of students as individuals, putting more global resources on the front line. By meeting a student’s needs outside of the classroom, they are more likely to succeed in the classroom.
“Even now, TCC continues to revolutionize the student experience and create new students supports to ensure that every student can succeed in college,” Goodson said in a press release.
Currently, TCC is expanding its academic services, such as tutoring and coaches integrated into the courses, using a Title III Institutional Strengthening Program $2.25 million grant from the US Department of Education.
This student-centered investment is paying off. Since 2015, TCC has seen a 25% increase in the number of diplomas or certificates awarded, with some students earning more than one. Last year, the college awarded 2,867 degrees or certificates – the highest in TCC history.
Preliminary enrollment figures indicate enrollment growth, particularly among first-time entering students and a substantial jump in former students returning to college after having been out of attendance for at least three years.
Additionally, TCC awarded the most scholarships in its history by offering $420,000 to students. TCC has done a masterful job of student success despite reduced public funds.
Heads of state must consider education as a whole, from kindergarten to vocational training programs for adults. And invest in students at every level.
Innovation has made TCC successful with its graduation rates. But imagine what more could be accomplished if heads of state made investments even as they were 15 years ago.