Applicants’, students’ and graduates’ needs drive the Community College of Baltimore County’s services
“It’s not that ‘non-traditional’ has a negative connotation for us. The term just doesn’t apply because we’re not of the same tradition,” shared Ebony Thomas-Butler, admissions coordinator at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) School of Health Professions, during a recent conversation about how her college supports its diverse student population. “We’re focused on creating opportunities for all of those who are interested in higher education. Parents, grandparents, veterans, career changers — we’re here to help all students achieve success.”
As an institution that serves many of the students who the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) would consider non-traditional, CCBC offers great insight into the three-step approach that’s needed to drive success for students from all backgrounds.
Step 1: Start before the application is complete
CCBC streamlines its admissions process because the College recognizes that those who are considering higher education already have enough on their plates before they even start the application process.
“During the months when we’re expecting the highest application volume, we sit down with students at least once a month for one hour CAS Application Workshops, sessions dedicated to walking them through the application, step by step. We go through the transcript request process. We demonstrate the application technology. We talk through common barriers that they might encounter. Increasing familiarity with the process and driving comfort with the technology minimizes unneeded frustration during what’s already a stressful, life-changing process,” Ebony explained.
Once prospective students are ready to apply, they’re met with a modern application experience in the form of Liaison-powered Centralized Application Services (CAS™ and UniCAS™). Regular application status updates and phone/email support along the way allow CCBC to maintain its hands-on support of applicants throughout this stage.
Step 2: Guide enrolled students to graduation
Once students have enrolled, dedicated academic advisors take over, leveraging their experience to guide students as they monitor academic success and also stay on the lookout for when life just gets in the way. “For instance, students — or their parents or their children — get sick and need breaks from academic responsibilities. Or their power gets cut off, and that adds a hurdle to completing the work required for their program,” shared Ebony. “We offer a range of services that help students manage money, learn time management and maintain overall wellness. Sometimes that looks like walking them through getting a bus pass. Other times, it looks like our formal academic development program course.”
Through grant funding, the School of Health Professions employs a project director specifically focused on driving student retention. As a part of this role, the director meets with incoming students and facilitates a “Tools for Success” course focused on personal and professional success. The course covers time management, study skills, test taking and test anxiety as well as general communication skills, and the director continues developing these skills with students during one-on-one sessions that drill down to specific academic concerns. If human services assistance is needed, the director connects students with Success Navigators, college representatives who can help overcome these personal obstacles.
Step 3: Include post-campus opportunities in the definition of “success”
Another component that sets CCBC apart: a focus on what happens after students leave the campus.
“Program directors offer networking opportunities, and we have a career services department that ensures the time and effort these students put in leads to career advancement. In fact, in addition to being attracted by the specialty programs — some of our programs are the only ones offered in Maryland — and our high first passage rates on Board and Certification exams, a main reason that students find their way to CCBC is because they want to start their career as soon as possible. They recognize that we’re here to help them achieve that goal.”
Expand your focus for greater student success
With the risk of student attrition on the rise, higher ed institutions of all types would do well to take an approach similar to CCBC’s. “It all comes down to seeing students as whole people. They’re pursuing degrees or certificates, but that’s not the only thing going on in their lives. By expanding our focus to support them earlier and later in the process, and recognizing that life is unpredictable, we can drive more student success. It benefits our academic communities and society as a whole to support success on and off campus.”