SUPPORTS TO IMPROVE STUDENT OUTCOMES IN AN ONLINE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Rio Salado College was founded in 1978 as one of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges. At that time the college offered courses in 180 remote locations throughout the greater Phoenix (Arizona) metropolitan area. The College offered its first online class in 1996 and, to date, the majority of courses are offered online to more than 60,000 students. The College offers more than 50 associate’s degree and certificate programs. In 2015 Rio Salado College was one of 17 schools in the United States to be awarded a First in the World (FITW) $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support innovation and improve student outcomes.
The Early Childhood & Human Development (ECE/HD) Undergraduate Program offers 12 certificate and 3 associate degree programs with an approximate 5000 unduplicated head count and 600 full time equivalent students enrolled for the 2013 year.
Beginning in the fall 2015, the ECE/HD Department instituted two new programs [Student Ambassador and Engagement Specialist] to support its students and improve student outcomes: Both programs are in addition to the college advisor assigned to each student upon admission.
First, each student enrolled in the program is assigned a Student Ambassador. The role of the Student Ambassador is to support the student from the first day of class. The Student Ambassador helps the student navigate all issues related to first time enrollment. These may include, but are not limited to, welcoming each student into the program; encouraging each student throughout his or her first class; following up with and emailing students weekly if they have missing assignments; helping students with program and enrollment decisions; and assisting students with accessing and navigating the College’s LMS.
Second, each student is assigned an ECE/HD Department Engagement Specialist. The Engagement Specialists personalize service throughout each student’s academic journey to ensure student success, retention, persistence and completion from the point of access through the final course, internship experience, and graduation. The level of support is dependent on each student’s needs. Responsibilities of the Engagement Specialists include all aspects of coaching and guidance to provide students with the individual supports needed for course and program success.
Beginning in the fall 2015 the ECE/HD Department began collecting data to determine the effectiveness of the Ambassador and Engagement Specialist programs. The data is collected monthly and annually to assess the effectiveness of the Ambassador and Engagement Specialist strategies. Targeted intervention strategies specific to the experiences of students who are at various intervals toward completion of their certificate or degree are assessed. Monthly formative data is reviewed to provide the necessary immediate supports to students. Annually, the ECE/HD Department will use the data to increase the (a) percentage of students who graduate with a certificate; percentage of students who matriculate from the certificate program to the associate’s degree program; and (c) increase the percentage of students who graduate from the associate’s degree program. At the end of the 2015 – 2016 academic year, all data will be reviewed to make any necessary changes in the functionality and effectiveness of these two new innovative approaches to support students as measured by student success, persistence, retention and completion benchmarks.