CBC calling struggling students, offering to help

If you’re a Columbia Basin College student with slipping grades, you soon could be getting a phone call. Don’t worry, it’ll be someone trying to help.

The Pasco-based community college is seeing success from a new program that aims to help struggling students.

The program is simple. College counselors watch for students whose grades are C average or below for two quarters and they give them a call. They ask how they can help.

Last school year, 61 students were called and CBC saw their grades improve.

“Just the simplest kind of notice by us makes a big deal in their lives,” said CBC President Rich Cummins.

The students saw their spring quarter grades rise at least one point on average, though some saw even greater improvement.

“Some students at 1.5, 1.4 (GPA) jumped as high as 3.5,” said Joe Montgomery, dean for institutional effectiveness.

College officials presented the data to the college board Monday.

Many of the calls led to academic advising appointments and other help from the college, officials said, demonstrating the importance of the human touch when it comes to working with students.

The college has long provided students help when it comes to planning their academic lives, said Pat Campbell, vice president for student services. But those services were only provided when students deliberately sought them out.

The new approach, which uses counselors — known as completion coaches — has the college making the first move to see if struggling students need some help. They were hired in January.

The students selected to receive the calls had overall GPAs around 2.0, or a C average, with their grades declining between the fall 2014 and winter 2014 terms. The completion coaches called the students in the first week of the spring 2014 quarter to discuss their grades and encourage them to work harder.

Some of the students said trouble with specific academic subjects was holding them back but others gave a variety of reasons — some of them outside of the classroom, such as medical issues or working two jobs to pay tuition.

Most were happy to receive the calls, Campbell said, and came in to meet with the completion coaches or others to get their studies back on track.

“We’ve made some really good strides with this program,” she told the Herald.

Much of the college’s attention goes to high achieving students or those who are barely staying afloat with their coursework, Cummins said. That leaves many students in the middle.

“They’re getting by but not flourishing,” he said.

College officials said they don’t fully understand why the calls helped students nor why the calls weren’t as effective for all of them.

Hispanic students who received calls saw their grades increase about a third of a point. White students saw more than a point increase in their GPAs on average.

But board members are pleased with the results.

“There’s obviously more to come and more phone calls to make,” said board Chairwoman Sherry Armijo

The program is expanding. Another completion coach was recently hired, Campbell said, and the phone calls to students with declining grades are being made every quarter.

The college has even moved on to calling another demographic: students who need 15 credits or less to graduate but aren’t enrolled.

“I think everybody needs somebody in their court to support them,” Campbell told the Herald.