FROM A PLUNGE TO A SOARING FLIGHT The Remarkable Turnaround in Hispanic Enrollment and Success

Story courtesy of 

Ric Neal Baser, Ed.D.

Located in a bustling sector of far northwest Bexar County, Alamo Colleges District - Northwest Vista College (NVC) has always strived to reflect the city it serves—San Antonio, Texas. But just a little more than 10 years ago, the Hispanic enrollment at NVC dipped to 44 percent, far below the city’s Hispanic population (63 percent) and still below the 60 percent Hispanic population represented in the college’s immediate and adjacent zip codes. 

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This was alarming news for NVC faculty, staff and administrators who were used to hearing accolades related to enrollment. At the time, NVC was the fastest-growing community college in the United States. As a Hispanic serving institution, NVC needed to strengthen its outreach to one of its main target groups.

Almost immediately, NVC faculty and staff engaged in research and discussions to determine what were the likely causes of this downward trend. Several factors were identified and were addressed over the next 10 years through various strategic objectives, college initiatives and grass roots efforts. 

During the 2014-2015 academic year, Hispanic students comprised 62 percent of NVC’s total enrollment, which now closely mirrors the 63 percent of self-identified Hispanics living in San Antonio, according to 2015 U.S. Census data. This year, NVC is being recognized by The Hispanic Outlook on Education (HO) Magazine as one of the top 25 community colleges for Hispanics in the United States, based on data from the Department of Education. NVC is listed at number 12 and is one of only two colleges from San Antonio, Texas, on this list. For the past two years in a row, NVC was also listed as one of the best colleges in Texas by bestcolleges.com. The college ranked number two among Texas community colleges.

Achieving such a remarkable turnaround required a college-wide effort and commitment to provide continued access to education by identifying and helping students who are educationally and economically disadvantaged.

Coordinate Recruitment, Advising and Financial Aid Efforts

Although Northwest Vista College had always participated in city-wide recruitment initiatives and strived to market to and recruit Hispanic students, reaching a larger part of the Hispanic population required a more coordinated effort. One such strategy was to make the college accessible to economically disadvantaged sectors of the city. Located only a few miles away from the main campus, NVC began to provide outreach, recruitment and enrollment services, as well as offering courses at an offsite location at the Westside Education and Training Center. A large portion of this effort came from one of the oldest programs the college offered: the Community Health Worker program. Its coordinator, as well as its students, were already serving that segment of the population through their practicum and internships.

At the same time, the college quickly embraced and began to work collaboratively with its sister colleges on a College Connections program, a district-wide recruitment initiative. The program is a partnership with area high schools whereby recruiters from NVC and other colleges within the Alamo College District assist high school students at their home campus in advising, financial aid and enrollment efforts. 

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Through various focus groups and listening sessions with students, faculty and staff, NVC also began to offer Financial Aid Saturdays for families to address financial concerns for first-time college students and students who were economically disadvantaged. Programs such as Visit Vista Days, which occur on the weekend, are meant to break the mystery out of the enrollment process and assist working students and their families.

The college’s recruitment, advising and financial support efforts have been recognized on a national level. In 2009, NVC was recognized for exemplary practices in integrating academic and career advisement by the National Academic Advising Association, an organization that promotes quality academic advising in institutions of higher education. In 2016, the Northwest Vista College Recruitment Team was recognized by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics as one of the Bright Spots in Hispanic Education across the country for helping to close the achievement gap by increasing educational outcomes and opportunities for Hispanic students.

Embrace and Financially Support Grass Roots Academic Success Initiatives

Northwest Vista College faculty and staff have done a phenomenal job supporting students in developmental education and gatekeeper courses, which are required for academic success yet pose challenges for many students. Math can be the largest obstacle to student success and degree completion. NVC math faculty have always engaged in intrusive advising efforts, as well as innovative teaching methods to reduce the length of time students spend in developmental education and enter college-level courses. The Math Advocacy Center provides one-on-one tutoring for any developmental math course and any college algebra course offered at the college, as well as math advising and counseling. Another support system is the Math Lab for Cooperative Learning, which is designed to help students with any math course offered at NVC. Students can work individually or with a group on homework questions, quiz corrections and test reviews and corrections.

In 2009, NVC became a national leader in developmental education and received the National Association for Developmental Education (NADE) recognition. At the time, NVC’s developmental math program was the only one in the nation to receive the NADE recognition at the Distinguished Level.

Since then, math faculty have strived to break down academic silos and collaborated effectively across the college to create opportunities for student success. Supported by a federal grant, Project Math Paths is a grass-roots effort to improve NVC’s three-year graduation rate through a streamlined enrollment, advising and placement process, as well as through the acceleration of students through the math core, by eliminating developmental math course hours.

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Focus, Promote and Support Degree Completion Initiatives

In 2010, NVC engaged in a strategic objective to address degree completion gaps among all segment groups. A Degree Completion Team was established and strengthened through additional staffing and college-wide advising and marketing efforts. Student advisors and faculty groups across the college engaged in setting specific completion goals. A few years later, this effort was further solidified by a district-wide strategic focus on degree completion, which engaged all work teams in the academic area and among support staff. 

As a result of these initiatives, the number of degrees and certificates awarded began to grow exponentially. During the 2015-2016 academic year, there was a 51 percent growth in degrees and 13 percent in certificates from the previous academic year. NVC’s three-year degree completion rate for the first-time-in-college (FTIC) cohort, which began in 2012 and completed in 2015, was 23 percent. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, NVC’s latest FTIC cohort for 2013-2016 grew to 25 percent. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board notes NVC’s three-year FTIC graduation rate as 26.6 percent.

Another outstanding factor is that a majority of these degrees and certificates — over 58 percent during the 2014-2015 academic year — were awarded to Hispanic students. NVC is making commendable progress in closing the gap for Hispanic students. Although there is still a four percent gap between Hispanic students enrolled and those earning degrees, it is a major progress from our past of 38 percent Hispanics earning degrees in 2005.

This remarkable turnaround in Hispanic enrollment and success for Northwest Vista College students is a promise to San Antonio and Texas and our local economy as we prepare the next generation of citizens and employees. NVC is committed to our mission of creating opportunities for success by offering quality academic, technical and life-long learning experiences to its diverse communities in a collaborative, student-centered, data-informed and shared leadership environment. •

 

Dr. Ric Neal Baser is the president of Alamo Colleges District - Northwest Vista College, located in San Antonio, Texas. He has 37 years of experience in higher education administration, teaching and research. 

 

NVC opened in 1995 with 12 students, and current enrollment exceeds 17,000 students pursuing associate degrees, certificates and marketable skills achievement awards. To learn more about Northwest Vista College, visit alamo.edu/nvc