Reports from the Field: Pulaski Technical College

Institutional Profile
Foundations of Excellence® Cohort:
2006-2007 National Select
Carnegie Classification:
Associate's-Public Urban-serving Single Campus
Enrollment:
8,768
Regional Accreditation:
Higher Learning Commission
Contact Information:

Ann Fellinger, Chair College Studies AFellinger@pulaskitech.edu
Amy Baldwin, Professional Develop. Institute Coordinator
ABaldwin@pulaskitech.edu
ttp://www.pulaskitech.edu

Impact of the Foundations of Excellence® on the College Culture
Amy Baldwin, Professional Development Institute Coordinator and Ann Fellinger, Chair College Studies

During 2006-2007, Pulaski Technical College (PTC) was fortunate to be one of four two-year colleges in Arkansas selected to participate in the Foundations of Excellence® (FoE) project through a Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation grant. As a new college (1991) that had experienced tremendous rapid growth, it was the perfect time to clearly articulate the college's beliefs about the new-student experience. PTC had always operated with the success of all of its students foremost in policy decisions, but there had never been an examination of the new-student experience that involves all areas of the college, nor had the college taken an integrated approach to the first year experience.

Identified Areas for Improvement

During the course of the self-study process, the Steering Committee identified several key areas that needed to be addressed, many of which could be implemented almost immediately and did not require any cost to the college. As individuals and departments on campus caught the “excellence” bug, changes started taking place during the first few weeks of the process:

  • Student Services added an asterisk next to the names of students who are new to PTC on class rosters. This simple step allows faculty to easily identify those students who may need extra time and help navigating a new place and culture.
  • The Philosophy Dimension Committee produced the first new-student philosophy statement for PTC. This philosophy statement was approved by the appropriate committees on campus and appeared in the catalog and on every syllabus beginning fall 2007.

New Student Philosophy Statement

Pulaski Technical College is committed to the academic, personal, and professional development of its students. The quality of the new student experience is critical to the achievement of the college's mission and lays the foundation upon which future educational successes will be built. This commitment obligates the PTC community to cooperatively and intentionally structure programs, activities, and services to promote the success of new students.

By the end of the Foundations of Excellence® self-study process, the Steering Committee recognized that PTC needs to become proactive and systematic in its efforts on behalf of its new student and identified the following broad areas for improvement:

  • PTC clearly needs to strengthen its assessment practices to include assessment of all areas of the college and use of assessment data to drive recommendations and actions. 
  • PTC needs to refine student success strategies in some areas, and new approaches need to be executed in other areas. (Target areas include orientation, advising, college success course, and early alert.)
  • PTC must reaffirm its commitment to staffing and organizational changes, which must occur to ensure that the recommendations outlined in this report are implemented.
  • PTC must offer deliberate and sustained professional development, which must be integrated into the culture if any change is to occur.
  • PTC must address its student diversity; each identified group needs specialized instruction and support to be successful. 
  • PTC should continue to stress improvement of instruction, especially as it relates to the strategies for improving student success and increasing retention.
  • PTC should revise the policies and practices that affect new students to ensure consistency and effectiveness.  

Working together, faculty, staff, and administrators at Pulaski Technical College can provide new students with the very best that the state of Arkansas has to offer by building on these foundational elements.

Progress and Impact

Pulaski Tech has made significant progress to address these broad areas and has established a First-Year Council, which keeps a progress matrix to monitor and track the movement on all Action Items recommended in our report. The Action Items that had the most immediate impact on our campus included mandating a college success course for all first-time entering, full-time, degree-seeking students. This requirement is designed to increase student persistence by increasing the numbers of students who take the student success course in their first semester. The FoE® process also served as a catalyst for our fledgling professional development program and reinforced our belief in its importance as an agent of change. In conjunction with Title III activities, we have been able to establish a Center for Teaching Excellence, a year-long program of professional development, an academy for new faculty, and a revised orientation for adjunct faculty that includes professional development workshops for PTC's largest faculty population.

Most importantly, the Foundations of Excellence® (FoE®) process made a tremendous impact on our college culture as a whole because it allowed us to see the work that we do at our college through a different lens. Rather than having grants (such as Title III) and initiatives (such as Achieving the Dream) working independently, FoE® allowed us to see how they all work together. The FoE® process provided us with a model to guide our work on other initiatives; and, we used our experience with FoE® as the true “foundation” on which to continue our examination of what our college can do to improve student success. For example, participation in FoE® prepared our college to take on the challenge of the Achieving the Dream initiative the following year. Through our examination of our campus issues as well as through our task force advisors' recommendations, our college applied for and was awarded a Predominantly Black Institution (PBI) grant to establish a student success center that targets African American males in order to improve their success rates.

When we received approval to participate in Academic Quality Improvement Plan through the Higher Learning Commission, we were able to dovetail what we had already done through FoE® with our Action Projects for AQIP. Our three initial Action Projects involve increasing successful grade rates in developmental mathematics and subsequent mathematics courses, increasing student satisfaction with the entire advising process, and increasing success rates of African American males.

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