August 8, 2008

TCC Program Seeks Staying Power


Half of Tulsa Achieves scholars will return as sophomores, but TCC wants that to be higher.

Tulsa Community College expects half of the students who started college in the Tulsa Achieves scholarship program last fall to return for their sophomore year this month, reflecting the national norm for re-enrollment at community colleges.

But officials hope that some new programs will improve that number.

As of last week, about a third of the initial 1,357 Tulsa Achieves students had re-enrolled for this fall, program director Tim Fernandez said. An additional 228 were eligible to enroll, and Fernandez said he expected all of them to sign up.

TCC started the scholarship last fall, paying as much as 100 percent of tuition and fees for students just out of high school who live in Tulsa County. College leaders considered the program a thank- you to local residents for their longtime support through taxes. TCC is paying for the scholarship out of its budget, which is made up largely of tax revenue.

About 60 percent of the initial group stayed at TCC through the end of the spring 2008 semester, Fernandez said.

For Tulsa Achieves students to return for their second year in the program, they must have 2.0 grade-point averages or higher, complete at least three credit hours each fall and spring, complete more than 70 percent of attempted credit hours, fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid and perform 40 hours of community service, he said.

Students have most commonly left the scholarship program to transfer to another college, said Marshall Bolton, a Tulsa Achieves program assistant. Other students have taken a break from college or made bad grades, Bolton and Fernandez said.

Several students graduated, and some left for military service, Fernandez said.

Administrators always hope that the retention rate will be higher, but some components of the Tulsa Achieves program specifically aimed at fighting attrition were not yet in place, he said.

"Realistically, that's about what we expected," he said.

A three credit-hour orientation class and enrollment clinics, both mandatory, are being included for this year's scholars.

Fernandez said he expects the programs to help boost retention. A difference should be visible by the end of the coming school year, he said.

"This year, we're really working on the academic support component," he said.

If students made low grades last fall, they had this spring to bring up their GPAs, Fernandez said. If they failed, they can't receive the scholarship again this fall.

Last fall, Tulsa Achieves students had an average GPA of 2.64, which officials considered very good, given that the program included more than 1,000 students.

Tulsa Achieves requirements are designed to keep students in school, Fernandez said. Unlike other TCC students, the scholars must meet with an academic adviser to ensure that they're enrolled in the proper classes.

TCC President Tom McKeon has said that requiring students to take at least one class every fall and spring helps maintain their educational momentum.

The required community service component also is designed to aid retention and help students determine their career interests.

"If they get involved in anything related to college, they're more likely to stay in school," Fernandez said.

Starting this fall, the new crop of 1,485 Tulsa Achieves freshmen will take orientation classes based on their academic abilities. In the College Survival and Strategies for Academic Success classes, students will learn about TCC's expectations for them, resources available, study skills, time management, note-taking and research tactics, Fernandez said.

"We have a responsibility not to just attract students, but once they get here, (to) ensure their success so we're good stewards of the taxpayers' money," he said. "We want all students to be successful."

In time, TCC will determine how effective these and other strategies have been and implement the best ones collegewide so that all students benefit, he said.

TCC will consider Tulsa Achieves students successful when they graduate with associate degrees or transfer to four-year colleges to work on bachelor's degrees, Fernandez said.

TCC is encouraging students to finish their associate degrees before transferring, because that often ensures that four-year colleges will count all of the students' TCC classes toward bachelor's degrees.

"All in all," Fernandez said, "I think we're right on track, and I think TCC is building momentum and not just attracting students into higher education but providing the structure to make sure they're successful."World staff writer Shannon Muchmore contributed to this story.

Originally published by APRIL MARCISZEWSKI World Staff Writer.

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