WCC responds to changing expectations

SUGAR GROVE – Today’s community college student is a new breed, with high expectations for instructors and administrators to meet.

Waubonsee Community College officials say that students expect instant communications, online course work and program schedules both flexible and streamlined to allow for rapid completion of a degree.

“When our students come to class they expect to be able to get everything through their phones,” Waubonsee Community College President Christine Sobek said.

“They don’t like email,” Sobek said, explaining that students now prefer texting.

“Communication patterns are different now because of a constant expectation of communications by students with faculty,” Sobek said. “We’re in a transitional phase between email and texting.”

The college is implementing use of Blackboard, a multilayered education management program designed to allow students to access all of the information they need about the school and their classes from their mobile devices.

For Waubonsee to remain competitive, Sobek said, the school has undertaken an ongoing journey to put all of its courses fully online.

There are students who want to immerse themselves in their studies and get their associate degrees as quickly as possible, Sobek said.

In response, Waubonsee has created Quick Path, a program allowing students to complete a degree in one year.

Spearheading the effort is Vice President of Strategic Development Jamal Scott, who worked to obtain a grant from the Dunham Fund of Aurora to get the program started a little more than a year ago.

The program provided 20 students, all coming straight out of high school, each with a success coach to advise, assist with registration and keep the students on track.

“It was pretty intense,” Scott said. “Sixteen students got through in one year.”

At the same time, Scott said, the college is working to use predictive analytics to identify students who may be at risk of running into difficulties that might prevent them from obtaining a degree.

“Sometimes the reason people drop out is not academic,” Scott said, explaining that family responsibilities, transportation problems or other factors can interfere with a student’s classwork or attendance.

When identifying at-risk students, the college starts making phone calls and referring students to tutoring or other needed assistance, Scott said. The effort is already producing a 10 percent increase in the retention rate among the 1,000 identified as vulnerable.

Scott echoed Sobek’s observations about student communication preferences. “They don’t really respond to email the way they used to,” Scott said.

The college is redesigning its website and online programs, Scott said, and moving ahead with the Blackboard system, where students can use their phones to do everything from sign up for classes to take quizzes.

The Waubonsee Community College District encompasses a wide geographic area. It includes Geneva, Batavia, Elburn, North Aurora, Aurora, Oswego, Yorkville, Montgomery and Plano. The district extends west to Hinckley, Sandwich, Somonauk and beyond, reaching corners of DeKalb and LaSalle counties and northwest to Maple Park and Virgil.

Waubonsee’s main campus is a sprawling site along Route 47 in Sugar Grove. There are two Aurora campuses, one in a mammoth downtown building and the other at the former Copley Hospital on the south edge of the city. And there is a small campus in rural Plano.

Maintaining and demonstrating an interest in its students and providing personal connections are keys to the school’s ongoing success, Sobek said.

Maintaining the brick-and-mortar of the school’s four campuses is another key, and the college has undertaken a facilities study aimed at identifying renovation projects, Sobek said.

Meanwhile, the college is aiming to keep its academic foundations rock solid as well, working to maintain its accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission, a regional scholastic agency.

To that end, Waubonsee is implementing what Scott described as transformational goals for the college.

These include raising student achievement through technological innovation, improving access, and a focus on personalization and experimental learning. Building alumni support and responding to changes in the workplace are also mentioned as goals for the school.

Waubonsee’s recently released annual report profiles a dynamic institution.

The college has 14,690 credit students and 13,234 noncredit enrollments, with 26 percent of the student body enrolled full time. Last year, 1,822 degrees and certificates were awarded.

The average age of a credit student is 24, while the average age of a noncredit student is 44.

The school has 116 full-time faculty, 463 adjunct faculty, 42 administrators and 485 support staff.

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