Managed Enrollment: A Process - Not A Product

By Sylvia Ramirez

The new accountability requirements of the Workforce Investment Act [WIA] have pushed programs to review their current practices and to investigate ways to measure accurately student learning gains. Program directors are looking for enrollment plans that meet federal and state requirements and are studying how the new plans may affect Average Daily Attendance [ADA]. This article describes MiraCosta College’s slow and deliberate move to Managed Enrollment, including the challenges, successes, faculty and student perceptions, and the retention and promotion results. The article concludes with recommended steps for implementing managed enrollment. It is note that MiraCosta College’s Managed Enrollment plan is based on the program’s retention data and students’ needs and goals. Interested program personnel need to review their own data as well as student and faculty needs in order to develop appropriate plans for their agencies.

Open-entry/Open-exit Enrollment

Open-entry/open-exit classrooms have been a defining feature of adult instruction. The theory behind open-entry/open-exit learning is persuasive. The belief is that learners should enter programs based on their identified needs and goals as well as their time constraints and once they accomplish their goals, they exit.

The reality of this system in English as a Second Language [ESL] may be less compelling. The open-entry/open-exit class format can also contribute to erratic attendance and students who begin or end their studies at will – whether or not they have achieved their goals. Although the open-entry/open exit system sounds very-student-oriented, it presents both instructional and program challenges. Instructors must constantly re-teach material from previous lessons because new students continually enter their classes. There are also learning challenges for students: some don’t take their studies seriously, placing a low priority on school attendance when other activities compete. Students often complain that they can’t see progress and blame that lack of progress on the constant turnover and repetition in their classes. Sometimes students who have been in class longer are asked to assist newly entering students. Some students resent that task, even if it serves as useful review.

Managed Enrollment

One solution to the accountability need mentioned above as well as the challenges faced by instructors and students in an open-entry/open-exit system, is Managed Enrollment. What is Managed Enrollment? Simply put, programs that are implementing managed enrollment programs are designing more structured time frames for enrollment that reflect their program data about student attendance patterns. The programs may impose enrollment deadlines and place restrictions on the number of classes a student may miss. Programs plan optional classes for students that are unable to attend the more structured class settings such as distance learning classes and open lab classes.

Investigating the Issues

Sometimes innovations come from administrative changes; sometimes they occur because of a new funding opportunity; and sometimes changes are produced because the right person ask the right questions. All of the above played a role in the restructuring of MiraCosta College’s noncredit ESL program. In the Spring of 1995, the ESL noncredit coordinator conducted bilingual focus group interviews with 45 students studying in several of the seven levels of noncredit ESL instruction (beginning literacy, beginning low and high, intermediate low and high, and advanced low and high). The interviews gave students an opportunity to answer the following questions:

Not surprisingly, students expressed very serious and urgent needs for learning English. There was a recurring question asked by students: “How did I get placed in this level and how do I get to the next level?” The need to answer this question brought about a four-year placement and promotion practices accountability project, a $175,000 three-year grant from the California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office and two Promising Practices Awards from the California Department of Education. Most important, however, was that the innovations provided some clear answers for students.

Preliminary Study

To begin the process, noncredit ESL faculty initiated a study of their students, focusing on four major areas: (1) student goals, (2) attendance patterns, (3) promotion rates from level to level, and (4) the criteria actually used for determining student readiness to move up a level. After studying the data collected every eight weeks for a year, faculty committees developed Priority Outcomes for seven levels of instruction. The priority outcomes are based on exit criteria as listed in the California Model Standards. These outcomes were field-tested and revised during the following year.

Findings from the Study

Some of the findings of the preliminary study were:

Examination of enrollment patterns revealed that almost 25% of the students left the program after one week of instruction and only 8% were promoted to the next level of instruction.

Managed Enrollment Pilot

To respond to the issues raised by the data and student focus groups, the ESL Coordinator instituted a “Managed Enrollment pilot at the largest instructional site in the Fall of 1999. The school year was divided into five eight-week sessions with specific registration dates for each session. Students were placed into a class or put on a waiting list for the next available class. Attendance policies were enforced. Students were warned that if they missed more than five classes during the eight-week session, they would be dropped.

Some important safeguards were built into the system to meet the needs of all students.

Results of the Pilot Study

The following successes were identified after the first year of the managed enrollment pilot:

During the second year of Managed enrollment, almost 50 percent of students were promoted or completed the ESL program after eight weeks. Of special significance is that MiraCosta College earned all their estimated benchmarks and exceeded the r approved ESL benchmarks by 50%! Additionally, 65% of ESL the data show students who take pre-and-post standardized reading tests make significant gains. Twenty percent gained two levels based on their reading scores.

Surveys of Instructors, Staff and Students

At the end of the pilot year, the coordinator surveyed faculty, staff, and students for their reactions to the new system. One hundred percent of the faculty and staff voiced their approval. They reported that students liked the eight-week sessions. Perhaps the most interesting part of the survey was student reactions to the priority outcomes. Most instructors felt their students were excited about using the priority outcome process and were making the connection between completing the assessments and completing levels of instruction. This strong indicator of how students assess their progress is compelling information for program improvement. In addition, faculty reported that because students were being promoted in a more timely manner, there was more incentive to study.

The survey of students indicated that 67% approved of the eight-week sessions. Thirty-three percent requested more time. A closer look at the data, however, indicated that 29% of that 33% did not understand the Priority Outc9mes. The most astounding difference between the original student survey and this second survey was how well students could articulate their progress through program levels. They now have answers to their questions.

Recommendations for Getting Started