Having not heard from J, I call her, asking her if she still wants to come in to register for next semester and figure out what to do about her Bursar Hold.
I walk T, in fear of failing certain classes because of her English language skills, to the Counseling Center to sign up for an ESL conversation group.
D has a learning disability but does not know how to go about getting accommodations. We walk over to the Accessibility Office and fill out paperwork together.
The above scenarios represent some examples of community college advising. As part of Opening Doors Learning Communities, a program that aims to increase student retention through small, linked classes and personal academic advising, I teach three one-credit student development courses and advise the students in them. Most of our efforts focus on student retention, an issue at many community colleges.
In addition to helping students choose majors and select classes, I connect students with various services at school and help them navigate college life and bureaucracy. A typical day may involve communicating with the financial aid office, the bursar, various academic departments, or the Registrar.
Financial aid is often a primary concern. To receive full time financial aid, students must register for a full-time (12 credit) schedule. With most students working full- or part-time, scheduling becomes a balancing act of giving a student enough credits to maintain her financial aid and progress through college, while giving her the best chance to earn high grades. Students may not know that they can split these 12 credits between a Spring and Summer session. Also, many students understandably want to finish their degrees as quickly as possible and may be tempted to take six classes while working a full time job, but I may urge them to reconsider. Other financial aid issues may lead to Bursar Holds, which prevent students from registering for the next semester. A phone call to Financial Aid may reveal that a student’s Pell grant has not come through because he has not yet registered for the Selective Service, or that a student is mistakenly listed as a non-resident, thus holding up his state financial aid. Some simple paperwork takes care of these issues and allows students to register.
While financial aid is a chief concern for students, a lack of finances does not present their only barrier to success. As the scenarios above show, English language skills, family and work responsibilities, health issues, and lack of resources all represent significant challenges to community college students.
Children of non-college-educated parents may not have the resources to know, for instance, what a credit means, what a GPA is, or even the importance of earning a high GPA. At our first meeting, one of my students told me that as a first generation college student, he was feeling overwhelmed with college life, from finding his classrooms to managing his time. In addition to teaching lessons on time management and college policies in my classes, in one-on-one meetings with students I may encourage them to use daily planners (Kingsborough provides these for free), cut down on work hours during finals week, explain what a research paper is, and walk them over to the tutoring center to sign up for weekly tutoring.
Communication with professors is another key aspect of my job. “ X is struggling,” one of them will tell me, and I’ll reach out to make an appointment with him and refer him to tutoring or counseling services. Often students do not know they can ask for help or speak to a professor. A student may assume that an INC, or an incomplete, is equivalent to an F, when really he has just missed a major assignment or exam and can complete it to receive a grade. In a situation like that, I will guide a student towards speaking with his professor and provide notes on what to say.
Ideally, students gain the skills to persist through college and to navigate college life and bureaucracy. W, listed above, ultimately sought out tutoring and passed her classes. My relationship with my students is a two-way street. They teach me about persistence, flexibility, and resilience.
This post is part of our #comm_college series, which aims to explore experiences developing community college policies and processes that impact the recruitment, retention, and completion of community college students. What human interest stories do you have of community college student resilience, persistence, and success? What about a stories of transition, challenge, or transformation? A variety of SA pros working in student affairs at a community college will share their insights. For more information, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!