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JCC leads NY community colleges with grad rate

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Jefferson Community College had the highest six-year graduation rate among state community colleges for students who enrolled in 2002.

JCC recorded a 46 percent graduation rate, according to the Center for Urban Studies as a part of a State University of New York Completion Day initiative.

According to Betsy D. Penrose, JCC vice president for students, the number was calculated by combining the college’s 29 percent graduation rate for associate degrees with those who transferred to receive bachelor’s degrees — an additional 17 percent.

Although Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas J. Finch is pleased with the graduation rate, he said he understands why community members may be unimpressed by the numbers.

“The biggest part of that is people see 46 percent and say ‘big deal,’” Mr. Finch said.

He said college graduation rates are measured differently from high school rates. If a student transfers to another community college, the state considers the student a JCC dropout.

Because JCC has open enrollment, Mr. Finch said, some parents persuade their children to attend for a year to save money. In addition, some people wish to take only a class or two to update their work skills or find out what they’re interested in pursuing.

Based on figures Mrs. Penrose released for those who enrolled in 2006, JCC’s rate appears to have improved since 2002.

“Based on the National Community College Benchmarking Project numbers, I can tell you that our six-year associate degree completion rate was 34.34 percent in fall 2012” based on the 2006 cohort, she said in an email. “The SUNY rate was 32.17 percent and the national rate was 27.67 percent. So, it appears we are trending in a positive direction.”

Mrs. Penrose did not know the percentage of students who transferred and received a bachelor’s degree.

Mr. Finch said he encourages students to send their four-year school transcripts back to the community college so they can receive credit there at the same time. When they have enough credits, they can receive an associate degree and boost the college’s graduation rate at the same time.

“Something can happen in their lives where they don’t finish their bachelor’s degree,” Mr. Finch said. “You never have to explain a degree. You have the credentials.”

Mrs. Penrose said she is happy for the students who transfer to get their bachelor’s degree, even if it hurts the college.

“For us, they might look like a non-grad, but they’re a successful transfer,” she said. “Also, with adult learners, job opportunities come up.”

Mr. Finch said Fort Drum creates a transient population in the area.

“A third of our population, over a third, is made up of Fort Drum soldiers, and they don’t stay here,” he said.

Mr. Finch said there are few exceptions to having a student who does not graduate after six years count against the college’s graduation rate, but military involvement is one of them.

“If you’re in a cohort and you start, you’re counted,” he said.

Mrs. Penrose said the college has many programs in place to keep the graduation rate climbing.

“One of the things about getting students to graduate is keeping them all along,” she said.

She said the best way to do this is to start during the student’s first few months.

The college has a “welcome week” at the beginning of the year to get freshman students acclimated.

A $2 million federal Title III grant awarded four years ago was aimed at different ways to improve student retention. One was to increase faculty development efforts and start a mentoring program for new professors at JCC. Adjunct instructors have an online training program to help them better understand student needs.

Faculty can refer students they think are struggling to a specialist who can give them the help they need, whether it is getting them a tutor or finding them a ride to campus.

A new reading specialist was hired to add to the math and writing specialist, Mrs. Penrose said.

Because professors see the students frequently and know who may be at risk, the college started an early alert program.

“It’s designated to intervene to get students’ needs addressed so that they can continue to be a student,” Mrs. Penrose said.

Recently, JCC began doing the same for more than 300 students who received 45 or more credits in the past five years but stopped enrolling in classes.

“We asked why they didn’t come back, and we had some responses,” Mrs. Penrose said.

Some went on to four-year colleges. Others had work obligations or children to take care of. However, after counseling, some of those students decided to return to school.

“Part-time students can take a long time to gain 60 credits,” Mrs. Penrose said. “It can take someone six or eight years to get a degree.”

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