Community Colleges See Experiential Learning as Catalyst to Completion

Friday, November 17, 2017

Community college administrators understand the challenges students face in their individual educational and vocational journeys. Metrics are easy to measure, and it’s clear that the typical community college student’s effort to balance work and life can often complicate and delay completion. Throughout Ohio’s community college network, best practices are emerging to help students navigate the intersection of academic preparation and vocational opportunity. 

More and more, community colleges are finding that aggressive and intentional academic advising and career counseling help students find direction that can lead them to an efficient schedule of coursework, a less costly degree or credential, and a promising career. Educational professionals who help students find the sweet spot where aptitude and passion combine with opportunity make a big difference in the lives of students — and in their return on their college investment.


Clark State Community College


“Experiential education makes classrooms come alive,” said Melody Gast, who leads the career services office of Clark State Community College.


 “Career is in my job title, but career exploration is imbedded in every aspect of our approach to education. It starts on the first day of orientation with a career assessment and an introduction to the many ways students can get guidance and get involved.” 

While Clark State uses assessment tools to help students define their interests, aptitudes, personality, and values, the process quickly becomes a one-on-one experience for each student. 

“We’re a community college, so our students come from a variety of career backgrounds, and most want to remain in the area, so it’s very important that we involve local employers in all that we do,” Gast said.

Involvement takes many forms. Advisory councils provide curriculum guidance and employer involvement in classrooms and job fairs inject real-life possibilities and mentorship opportunities. Employers play a key role in the life of the community college.

Gast contends that employer participation helps students gain experience and confidence that the career choice fits before a lot of time, energy, and expense are invested. 

“Students are looking for a better future, and it’s our responsibility to connect them and help them bridge college and career. We work hard to involve the business community and that connection is welcomed by both,” Gast said.

Clark State utilizes “career navigators” in its health science and engineering disciplines, and mobilizes “success coaches” throughout the college to make sure students take advantage of additional support services that help them stay in school and complete their certifications or degrees. “We have ample evidence that what we do with counseling and coaching helps people succeed.”


Lorain County Community College

jonesMarcia Jones leads career services for Lorain County Community College and has worked to bring the end game to the center of college life. In 2010, LCCC restructured its career services to be housed with enrollment and financial services for a one-stop shop to better integrate all front-end services for students. All new students are required to see advisors who are well trained and focused on workforce outcomes. 

“It starts early here and continues along the career path for many students who come back to refresh and retrain as their careers mature,” Jones said.

Lorain maintains connections with local employment through local Ohio Means Jobs offices and through its Regional IT Employment (RITE) Board and Employer Advisory Councils. LCCC’s job board connects students with employers who may offer co-ops, internships, or full-time employment. 


Washington State Community Collegeherb

“Because we’re a small school environment, our advising structure is very personal,” said Amanda Herb, vice president of enrollment and student success at Washington State Community College. “We encourage students to work with their advisors early and often.”

Student satisfaction scores bear this out. CCSSE scores in 2017 show that 80 percent of Washington State students met with advisors two to four times or five or more times, compared with 59 percent for the national cohort.

At Washington State, first-year advising occurs with the student service office, but once a major has been declared, students see a faculty advisor within their specific area of study. 

“Over their time in the program, the faculty advisor relationship grows with the student,” Herb said. “It works very well because the advisor understands the profession and the employers in the community. This is important when practicum, apprenticeships and all experiential learning come into play, and this is particularly important because so many of our students are looking for employment in the region.”

Employers today are looking for the technical skills necessary by profession, but they want more, Herb said, pointing to employer survey data the college has begun to measure. 

“Employer feedback has helped us develop a soft skills rubric we’re integrating into our curriculum,” she said. The soft skill sets include communications, professionalism, problem solving, and team work.