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Through Students’ Eyes: COM Shifts its Measurement of Success

COM recognized statewide for innovative model to measure student outcomes

KENTFIELD, Calif.—Sept. 16, 2009—In its ongoing mission to provide students with quality education, College of Marin has radically shifted its gauge of success, creating a fresh model of measurement that’s garnering statewide attention.

“We are looking at the college as a whole and asking, “Are we meeting the needs of the students?” said Yolanda Bellisimo, instructor and Academic Senate president who has been working on the project since the need was first addressed more than five years ago.

Rather than look at traditional measures such as class size and enrollment numbers, research prepared by Robert Kennedy, instructor and Academic Senate member, suggested the college should look at “output” measures such as job placements, number of transfers, success of transfers, number of degrees granted, efficiency of programs, completion rates, ESL transitioning and student satisfaction.

“You begin to look at the college as students experience it,” Bellisimo said.

Schools across the nation have been increasingly focusing on student learning outcomes, or how much students are actually learning, rather than data that reflects enrollment or attendance. The challenge for College of Marin has been how to measure success at a community college which is set up to serve students with diverse goals. While more than 40 percent of COM students are interested in transferring to a four-year college, more than 20 percent are there to gain job skills and more than 15 percent are working on basic skills.

The college identified five general groups of students who are taking “pathways” through the college: basic skill learning, career education, cultural enrichment, life learning and transfer. Each pathway defines its own goals for students and its own measures of success.

“It’s made a difference so far,” Kennedy said.

Measuring success through the eyes of students has already had an impact on how faculty and staff consider student goals. Changes in class scheduling are underway to accommodate students’ different work schedules and provide, for example, more classes in the early morning, late afternoon and Saturday, rather than bulking them in prime time which has drawn out some student transfers.

This year, COM also began providing additional support to student athletes, making sure they have the tools they need to successfully transfer to a four-year school. As the result of a stronger partnership between the Academic Senate and the Athletic Department, key class requirements were made mandatory for student athletes and accommodating class scheduling for classes such as math and English was put in place.

“A good GPA is meaningless,” Kennedy said. “If your goal is to transfer and get a four-year degree, you need math and English. It has been the thing that has kept students from finishing degrees.”

This innovative research model that identifies student “pathways” will be recognized at the inaugural POWER Awards (Promising Outcomes Work and Exemplary Research) to be presented at the Strengthening Student Success conference in San Francisco Oct. 7. Kennedy and Bellisimo will present their institutional outcomes model to a statewide audience of community college researchers and administrators. The POWER Awards are selected by the California Community College Network for Student Learning Outcomes Assessment, a partnership between the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges and the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. More information about student learning outcomes can be found at www.sloassessment.com.

“We were selected because we were so incredibly clever in what we did,” Bellisimo said. “We thought of this in a totally different way. This is an excellent example of how you use research to improve the services you provide to students. We’ll continue to research and see how these changes impact students.”

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