Voices of Completion By Design
Who are the people behind Completion by Design? What are the experiences that brought them to this work? How do they connect with the community college completion agenda? These are the questions we will attempt to answer through Voices of Completion by Design, a series of stories and interviews that explore the practical needs and human innovations that are behind this ambitious initiative.
The second voice in our series is that of Leslie Haynes, deputy director of CDAT (Completion by Design Assistance Team). Below, Leslie reflects on the second round of planning year retreats that took place in November and December 2011. As Leslie notes, these retreats provide a rare opportunity for teams from each group of colleges to step away from usual routines and focus together on increasing the number of students who get to and through college.
Courage and Craft - by Leslie Haynes (January 2012)
When our small CDAT team first designed Completion by Design with leadership at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we imagined a series of roll-up-your-sleeves meetings where planning teams from all four college cadres had the time and space away from busy offices and ringing phones and packed classes to redesign programs, policies, practices, and processes—the four P's of Completion by Design—in order to increase the number of students who get to and through college.
This initiative is rapidly evolving. During the second round of retreats, participants took ownership for the success of the convening. We have worked hard to become a team that crosses state lines and organizations and roles in order to create a series of experiences for all those involved in the initiative, to give ourselves and each other the resources needed to hone our craft, whatever our role or discipline or organizational affiliation.
At each of the retreats, I was wowed by the presentations from college and campus leaders detailing how they worked through mountains of data to establish an initial focus for their redesign efforts on particular student groups. Each presenter provided highlights from their data and made their thinking and decision-making process transparent.
First up was Houston, Texas. These folks don’t pull their punches. During the overview, one participant remarked, “We’re proud of our work on access but know we have a long way to go to get to completion rates that we can crow about.” In breakout sessions, participants asked hard questions of themselves and their colleagues.
We experienced Southern hospitality at its finest in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was struck by how students stayed at the center of our rich conversations and conclusions. As one participant put it, “First and foremost, our students are our stakeholders.”
Then, those hard-working Midwesterners treated us to a hard-hat tour of Lorain Community College’s new high-tech classrooms near Cleveland, Ohio. I overheard the following hallway exchange: “Who created the questions for this retreat? Because I read them and thought, ‘Good question. Glad you asked.’”
We finished in the warmth of Miami, Florida where the presidents of each participating Miami Dade College campus joined the planning teams. As the discussions heated up, the predominant bridge metaphor expanded into a causeway concept. Where does that Completion by Design causeway need to be undergirded or fixed or replaced in order to fuel commitment, community, and completion?I think we all left with specificity about some shovel-ready projects.
In all four states, folks noted surprises that advanced their understanding of the problem of accelerating specific segments of students through the college. These were the questions that most resonated with me:
On design and data:
- “As a team, how do we design meetings and sessions that will help us think together better about changing the student experience?”
- “We need more internal research. Who can help us identify our own emerging and promising practices?”
- “We seem to have a front-end problem, so do we deliberately slow down the entry process in order to speed up the completion process?”
On the student experience:
- “How much have our students been walking a pathway and how much have they been stomping across the grass?”
- “Let’s think more about redesigning high-risk courses and less about labeling high-risk students.”
- “How well do we understand our faculty, both full time and adjuncts, and the choices they make? Our focus groups have just scratched the surface.”
- “How do we build in reality checks along the way for everyone involved in this enterprise?”
- “What kind of state advisory do we need to have the heft and leverage necessary to change policy?”
- “How do we push for good educational policy that raises the bar for all students?”
I was recruited to do this work because of my experience providing support and structures for reform initiatives. It is my goal to help craft a system of technical assistance for all cadres that is flexible and effective. It is my expectation that we are creating a planning process that can be refined and replicated elsewhere.
Not long ago, George Fouts, one of our on-the-ground leads for Completion by Design in North Carolina, sent me Clapton’s Guitar—not the actual guitar, of course, but an account of how bluegrass legend Wayne Henderson crafts the perfect instrument for Eric Clapton. George hinted that I might find analogies to the work of Completion by Design. That book traveled with me during the last round of retreats. Reading it, I was reminded of the expert practitioners in our world, and the time and patience it takes to become one.
As one participant remarked, “There’s enough courage in this room to make big changes.” Agreed. And more than enough crafts people, too, I’d add. Together we can build a more effective way to engage students and give them the opportunity for better, richer lives through educational attainment.
I so look forward to the next round.
More Voices of Completion by Design:
August 2011: A Conversation with Suzanne Walsh
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