Cleveland State Student Success Center coaches igniting enrollment

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When it comes to colleges in the Volunteer State, the enrollment trend lately is one that shows a drop in numbers. In a time when colleges are struggling to attract and retain students, something special is going on at Cleveland State Community College. 

Customizing the student experience has become an instant success for the Tennessee Board of Regents College of the Year thanks to the work of the new Student Success Center.

According to the college’s Executive Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness David Knopp, Cleveland State has experienced “four straight semesters of growth over the same semester the previous year.”

Cleveland State is the leader in percentage enrollment increase numbers for the 2019-2020 academic year. The college with campuses in Bradley, McMinn and Monroe counties in Tennessee saw a 6.6% enrollment jump from fall 2018 to fall 2019. The college also enjoyed a 4.9% jump from spring 2019 to spring 2020. Retention increases have been a major factor in enrollment growth and causing Cleveland State to double its graduation rate in the past six years. 

“This does not happen by accident,” said Cleveland State Community College President Dr. Bill Seymour. “This has been part of a plan designed and carried out by the faculty and staff of the college. I’m proud of our success. I’m even more proud of the choice so many of our students in the region have made to call Cleveland State home. It’s truly exciting.”

With the steady increase of new students, the college wanted to do its part by providing each student the best chance to succeed. That’s where the Student Success Center comes into play.

“Students need to feel connected, and the Student Success Center was created to do that,” said Judy Nye, director of the CSCC Student Success Center. “We’ve had applicants in years past who don’t show up on the first day of classes or give up after the first semester, just because they don’t know how to navigate through the college experience.”

Thanks to the Student Success Center, that’s changing. In fact, since its founding a few years back, the college has seen such improvement in keeping students enrolled from term to term that they added staff members to the Center to better meet student needs.

The “retention rate” of students who applied to CSCC and registered for fall 2019 classes increased by 3% over the previous year. And, compared to numbers in 2017, 5.5% more first-time freshman made the leap from Fall to Spring semester this year.

Any time a student or prospective student has a question about tuition, financial aid, or career options, they can turn to the Center. There, they can interact with a host of knowledgeable, caring professionals. Known as Success Coaches, these professionals help new students get their college footing and current students are shown how to stay on track.

“The personal attention given to me by the success coaches to ensure I reach my goals is beyond anything I could imagine,” said CSCC student Rodger Hill.

A 1989 graduate of Cleveland High School, Hill is set to graduate from the Mechatronics program in 2020.

“I really can’t thank Chad (Cameron) and the other coaches enough.”

Cameron is a Student Success Coach and Academic Advisor for Advanced Technology.

While each coach has a unique personality, they all have two characteristics. They know the college inside and out. Plus, they are driven to help students succeed in the classroom and beyond.

“The student experience is so much better having a go-to person who can help students with their particular situations,” said Cameron. “Students don’t feel lost in the shuffle, because they know they have someone they can go to find answers.”

When creating the Center, representatives from the college visited nearby colleges with similar programs. They picked up ideas that worked and tweaked those that could be improved. And they continue to do the same today.

To ensure the program provides the help students really need, Center staff members constantly evaluate their techniques and services to determine if improvements can be made. Currently, the Center is undergoing a one-year evaluation of their latest coaching model.

“We hope to learn more and more about positively impacting our students, enabling them to meet their goals,” Nye said. “Since opening the Center, fewer students are leaving or losing financial aid eligibility. That means they’re staying in school and getting that much closer to their dreams. It’s a real pleasure to be part of that. By continuing to improve, we can continue to help more people reach their goals.”

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