I’ve spent most of my career in the community college setting and much of that time has been as president of Warren County Community College (WCCC), a smaller New Jersey institution less than two hours from New York City.

A benefit to leading at a smaller school like WCCC is the opportunity to try new things, even radical things—without some of the challenges that might come when initiating change at a large institution.

One of my main goals at WCCC—and a goal of all types of institutions—is increasing the graduation rate. Community colleges nationwide have set a goal to reach a 50-percent graduation rate. We’ve undertaken a few initiatives at WCCC that have helped us more than double graduation rates, and many of these initiatives can be replicated on other campuses.

4 steps to improving graduation rates

Step 1: Remove remediation

At WCCC, we took a bold first step in our quest to improve graduation rates. By abolishing remedial courses, we immediately saw our graduation rates double. Remedial courses often become a trap for community college students—few actually complete the courses and those that don’t are gated from the credit-bearing courses they need for their degree. Of course, this not a decision that is made lightly, and there are critics on both sides of the equation, but the immediate positive impact on graduation rates is undeniable.

Step 2: Credit adjustment

4 things my college did to more than double our graduation rate

Second, we lowered our credit-to-degree ratio. At WCCC, an associate degree is now 60 credits and a certificate is now 30 credits. While we can’t take credit for the statewide change (no pun intended), soon after we lowered requirements in 2016, it became law in 2018 across New Jersey that associate degrees require no more than 60 credits. The legislation is designed to lower the cost of education and decrease time to graduation. We were ahead of the curve, and many of our students benefited as a result.

Related: Looking to boost graduation rates?

Step 3: Diversify teaching

Everyone is a teacher at WCCC: faculty and administrators. Even I teach. This is similar to how the first colleges in the United States were founded, and we wanted to get back to that successful model. Maintaining a presence in the classroom ensures I stay eye-to-eye with the most important component of the mission: the students. I can’t make the best decisions on behalf of the institution without the first-hand knowledge and interaction I have with our students.

About the Author:

Dr. Will Austin is president of Warren County Community College in New Jersey and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Community Colleges.


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