As an Achieving the Dream college since 2012 — only one of 200 in the U.S. — Pierce College has been hard at work closing achievement gaps for first-generation college students, students of color, and low-income students who qualify for the federal Pell Grant.
Because of its successful track record, Pierce College has received a Guided Pathways implementation grant from College Spark Washington and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
The $500,000 grant, distributed over five years, will help Pierce College across its three campuses to simplify program choices for students; get students on a career pathway quickly; keep students on their chosen pathway by linking them to tutoring, study sessions, financial aid, and schedule building; and to finally measure individual student success, ensuring they’re learning the required course outcomes.
Marty Cavalluzzi, president of Pierce College Puyallup, said much of the focus is on helping ease the anxiety level for students brand new to the college experience.
“Sixty-three percent of our students are first-generation college students,” Cavalluzzi said. “It’s a foreign world to them. The language that we use, the expectations are different. But rather than have them come in and pick (any courses), we simplify their choices. It helps us to help them.”
In 2015, the youngest graduate at the Puyallup campus was 16; the oldest was 72.
“We have to open up to diversity and different socioeconomic levels,” Cavalluzzi explained. “We have a full range (of students) with different life experiences. We help all of them be successful.”
Even prior to receiving the Guided Pathways grant, Cavalluzzi said the college has implemented other changes to help close achievement gaps.
“Since fall 2012, we now have a mandatory orientation class,” he said. “(Students) learn about the college and what it takes to navigate through the college. They learn about all the resources available to them. The key is to really have a talk with them.”
With very few exceptions, incoming students are required to enroll in a college-success course.
“It teaches them what it takes to be successful in college,” Cavalluzzi said. “They look at and see all the career paths; they have to create a three-quarter education plan. Mandatory advising is required. We have also increased the access to tutoring and we have a writing center (where students) can get help on their writing assignments.”
Not only are students getting new resources to succeed, so too are faculty members. The Center for Engagement and Learning provides professional development.
“Let’s help employees do all these things better,” Cavalluzzi said. “All of our new tenured-track faculty will participate in a first-faculty cohort. They learn how to be a better teacher, how to look at course outcomes, how to be an advisor.”
As part of the Guided Pathways grant, faculty and staff are also required to attend two conferences per year over the next five years. Faculty and staff members went to their first conference in July.
“We will benefit from conferences and workshops, learning from other colleges and universities,” Cavalluzzi said.
Pierce College is one of five colleges in the state to receive the grant. Grant dollars will support faculty and staff salaries.