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 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.
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:
- What are some reasons you are studying English?
- What do you need to learn the most in English? [Speaking, Listening, Reading, Writing]
- What are some things you like most about your English class?
- What are some things you would like to do, or do more in your class?
- Are there any things you don’t like about your English class?
- What are your goals for the next 5 years?
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.
Some of the findings of the preliminary study were:
- There was a natural buy-in from instructors in identifying priority Outcomes because the outcomes were based on actual practice.
- As instructors focused on the outcomes that students were expected to achieve, there were fewer discussions about having to “force” students to move up.
- Instructors questioned promoting students who had not mastered all of the content; the concept vs. content issue was debated.
- Instructors who said it was “just obvious” which students were ready to be promoted began articulating what “obvious” meant in objective terms.
- Instructors often identified for promotion those students with strong speaking and listening skills. Faculty discussed the importance of measuring reading and writing skills more carefully.
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.
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.
- The managed enrollment classes met only at the main center where each class had twelve instructional hours per week.
- Classes at off-site locations in the community continued to be offered in an open-entry/open-exit format although teachers did use the Priority Outcomes for promotion criteria.
- A distance-learning program accommodated students unable or unwilling to attend traditional ESL classes.
- An open computer lab allowed ESL students to use software to study English, mornings and evenings.
The following successes were identified after the first year of the managed enrollment pilot:
- Of the 1999-2000 pilot, only 2% of the students left the program after twelve hours of instruction.
- In 1999-2000, an average if 35% were promoted or graduated from the program each session.
- Data indicate an average retention rate of 80%.
- All students on the waiting list for a session were able to enroll the subsequent session.
- The 1999-2000 Full-Time Equivalents [FTEs] were greater than those in 1998-1999 with no additional classes offered and no increase class size.
- Instructors made a renewed commitment to implementing the Priority Outcomes and documenting level completion.
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.
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.
- Identify specific program issues by talking to faculty, students and community members.
- Study enrollment patterns, and retention and promotion data.
- Establish session lengths based on student data.
- Develop curriculum and exit criteria for the designated sessions. Faculty involvement is essential.
- Plan a pilot with enthusiastic faculty at one site. Learn what works and what needs to be adjusted before expanding the program.
- Remember it is a pilot. Remove administrative threats [for example, canceling classes with low attendance]. This will allow teachers to focus on successful implementation strategies.
- Develop an atmosphere where change is an ongoing process to meet student, faculty, administration and community needs. If there aren’t changes, then managed enrollment becomes a stagnant product rather than a process.
- Faculty and Student Survey Results
- Changing Organizational Cultures to Promote Learner Persistence (PDF)
- Systems and Success - One Program's Experience (PPT)
- Adult Education Administrator's Guide (pages 51-54)
Enrollment Policy Options: Open Entry/Open Exit and Managed Enrollment