By Evelyn Hiatt
In 2009, AVID Center made a conscious decision to expand its influence in changing the educational future of college going students. It recognized that while it has helped thousands of students achieve their educational dreams, there are thousands more who have not had the benefit of a curriculum that offered, in AVID’s words, “rigor with support.” College freshmen, many of them first generation students who do not have a strong identity with postsecondary education, find themselves in a new educational environment that is more challenging, both academically and culturally, than they had imagined. To ease the transition for these students, and others who come to college with high expectations but low skill development, AVID Postsecondary was created with the purpose of increased student learning, persistence, completion, and success beyond college.
Although it is formally only a year old, AVID Postsecondary had its beginnings three years ago. Several postsecondary campuses recognized the difference in persistence among those students who had participated in AVID in high school and those who had not. Administrators from these campuses approached AVID and requested assistance at implementing “AVID-like” programs at their institutions. In 2009, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) approached AVID Center and suggested a partnership. AVID would adapt its successful, well- researched services to fit the needs of a growing number of postsecondary campuses that enrolled many students who lacked the educational background to succeed academically, and the THECB would provide support for faculty development during the first two years of program implementation. Thus, AVID Postsecondary was born as a formal component of the AVID system of support.
To those familiar with AVID, the postsecondary component appears quite similar to the high school model. There are the Essentials—only five at the Postsecondary level—that serve as the focus of the AVID services. There is a Campus Team that is similar to the AVID Site Team. There are tutorials. Faculty are trained in high engagement strategies. There is a concerted effort to build an AVID cohort of students that supports and encourages high performance. And there is a First Year Experience course that simulates much of what is included in the AVID Elective. Despite all of these similarities, there are marked differences that make AVID Postsecondary a challenge for even the most committed institutions.
While diversity is a given in all US schools, in higher education it is even more pronounced. The student body not only comes in all ethnic and racial groups, but there can be a marked difference in the ages and experiences of a class. Working adults taking one class are sitting next to full-time students who graduated from high school last year. Full-time moms who don’t get a chance to study until the kids are in bed take the same test as the student who spends several hours an evening reviewing notes and reading supporting material. And it is not just the students who are diverse, but the faculty as well. Adjunct professors who come onto campus to teach one evening class have a mailbox next to a tenured faculty member who has written numerous articles in his or her discipline. Add to this the fact that every faculty member has a unique schedule, the same course may have different textbooks, and courses may be taught online or face to face. The very factors that add to the richness and strength of our postsecondary institutions are the same factors that make coherent programming such a challenge.
Over the past year, working with 14 postsecondary institutions that represent community and technical colleges as well as four-year institutions, AVID Postsecondary staff and consultants have learned a great deal. Perhaps most rewarding for AVID staff was how the important lessons from its services in secondary schools transitioned nicely into postsecondary. Although there were minor revisions, the AVID Postsecondary Essentials continue to mirror and build on previous work the organization does in public schools. The surprises that AVID encountered have proven to be the most rewarding outcomes—and the most challenging hurdles.
Some of the biggest surprises had to do with postsecondary faculty. First, they really did want to participate in professional development opportunities. At the start, AVID was cautioned that college and university faculty not only didn’t like professional development, but they wouldn’t come to it if offered. This has not proven to be the case. Many faculty have sensed that their method of teaching may not be appropriate for the computer-age students in their classes. Often, faculty have no pedagogical background and they teach as they were taught. When AVID consultants have offered sessions in high engagement strategies, faculty have, for the most part, eagerly embraced the training. Obviously, not all faculty choose to participate, but growing numbers are showing a real interest in what AVID offers in terms of professional development.
Second, faculty do want to be a part of student success initiatives Everyone seems to know someone who had a professor who said on the first day of class, “Look to the left of you, look to the right of you—one of these students will not make it to the end of the semester.” While professors have a deep commitment to their discipline, they also have a commitment to student learning. Those who admittedly are more interested in research than in teaching still don’t want their students to fail or be dissatisfied with their course. Faculty reluctance to participate in student success initiatives often centers around the fact that they do not really feel included in the planning and implementation of such efforts. At the institutions engaged in AVID Postsecondary, faculty have been active participants in shaping the program and recommending ways of involving more of their colleagues in the effort.
AVID Postsecondary clearly works best at campuses where the culture already was shifting toward a strong focus on student persistence and success. While it has found a home at these institutions, there have been challenges—the lack of communication between student services and academic affairs or the dilemma of how to find time in student schedules are examples—and these will be discussed in future blogs. However, as AVID Postsecondary starts its second official year, the successes far outweigh the obstacles. Because of the hard work of the participating institutions and the efforts of AVID staff to continually refine and improve their new services, students who thought college was not for them are finding out that indeed college is just where they should be.
Evelyn Hiatt is the former Deputy Associate Commissioner for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and is currently a consultant for AVID Postsecondary.