March 2, 2018 by Emsi Burning Glass
This article was original published in The Appalachian, an electronic publication of The Community Colleges of Appalachia.
How do you keep students motivated from registration day to graduation day?
Tennessee’s performance-based funding places a heavy emphasis on the completion of degrees, so it’s a particularly pressing question for Pellissippi State Community College. The Knoxville, Tennessee-based college has arrived at a solution for retaining students—and part of that solution is Emsi.
First, Emsi data has helped Pellissippi State gauge employer demand in order to develop programs that train for compelling careers. “Emsi is a key part of the conversation when we consider new programs,” said Judy Gosch, director of curriculum and new program development.
Second, Pellissippi State keeps students engaged with the help of Emsi’s Career Coach, a software that shows students a variety of careers that match their interests and gifts. It also shows the school’s programs that will prepare them for those jobs.
Career Coach’s information on wages (see below), occupations, and companies in the college’s backyard helps Pellissippi State’s advisors guide and encourage students along their academic careers. This guidance, says advisor Loralee Bryant, also helps build personal relationships with the students.
“Career Coach is such a great tool because it gives us all the information we need in one place,” Bryant said. “We use it to start those vital conversations with students about what they want to do and how they can get there.”
The more a student feels like just another face in the crowd, the more likely they are to leave mid-program. For this reason, Pellissippi State has built a robust advisory team that meets with each incoming student. “In order to stay engaged, students need to know who we are and they need to feel comfortable talking to us,” said Bryant.
The college requires new students to meet with an advisor a minimum of three times throughout the year, although they strongly encourage students to meet up to five times. The first meeting takes place in August before the student enrolls in a single program. The others are check-ups throughout the school year to ensure the student is still on the right track.
“Last year, we had 2,700 first-time students,” Bryant recounted. “We met with all of them. It was intense, but rewarding. In order to retain students, we have to make sure they know we’re here to help them. They need to have a plan. And we discovered that simply reaching out and saying ‘Hey, we’re here for you’ can make a huge difference.”
Some incoming students already have career goals. But the majority have no clue. “If they know what they want to do, we point them to Career Coach as a good way to explore other options they might enjoy,” Bryant said. “If they don’t have any idea, then we walk through Career Coach right there.”
Within a few clicks, students have taken a short personality assessment and are browsing recommended careers (see right). “It’s amazing. I really don’t remember what I used before Career Coach,” Bryant said. “It would have been a lot of Googling that took forever.”
Career Coach often recommends jobs that students have never considered. The most common response is, “I didn’t know this about myself! I never would have thought about this career.” Students are excited to pursue the various options. By their second meeting a few weeks later, they have even more clarity.
“I see a lot of solidification from meeting to meeting, thanks to Career Coach,” Bryant explained. “It puts students on a path.”
None of these student-advisor meetings would mean much if Pellissippi State didn’t offer the right programs. For that reason, Emsi data is one of the college’s go-to sources in program development. “Data isn’t the be-all-end-all, because of course we have to verify the information with our local employers,” Gosch said. “But data is definitely included in our proposals.”
This powerful combination of data and fact-checking can give a new program the green light…or not. For example, one of the college’s educational partners pushed for an expensive new aviation program. First, Gosch consulted Emsi. The demand wasn’t there. Then she interviewed local regional employers. Again, the demand just wasn’t there. In the end, Pellissippi State determined the program wasn’t worth the cost. Emsi data thus helped save the college from investing in a program that would have prepared students for a stagnant job market.
As a positive example, Gosch also investigated the need for a welding program. Again, she coupled Emsi data with local interviews. The demand for welders was loud and clear, and Pellissippi State launched a successful welding program. “Data is essential,” Gosch said in summary, “but you have to use it in concert with information on the ground.”
Pellissippi State’s student engagement strategy is a great example of how community colleges can use data to help students succeed.
“Emsi is definitely beneficial for us,” Bryant said. “Our ultimate objective is retaining students so they accomplish their goals. To do that, we want to offer compelling programs and we want to give students career paths. Emsi data and Career Coach help with both.”