Impact on Education
For the past 50 years, Valencia has steadily broken barriers to opportunity. And, along the way, we’ve rejected orthodox educational methods, opting instead for bold experiments that stemmed from one core belief: That our students can learn anything under the right conditions.
As we look toward the coming years, we have a strong foundation to build upon. Our part-time faculty participate enthusiastically in development opportunities. Our career and workforce education programs boast a 98% placement rate, so that our A.S. graduates leave the college with a job. And the number of students taking online classes has grown dramatically.
Today, thanks to Direct Connect, our groundbreaking partnership with UCF, the number of transfer students entering UCF as juniors now outnumbers the UCF freshman class each year. There is no more productive transfer partnership in the country—and that promise of a guaranteed transfer has provided a purpose to our students, who now can see a clear path to their educational goals. Even as first-year students sitting in a composition class at Valencia, they can now envision a journey that concludes with commencement from UCF.
For the college to transform the student experience, we need to collaborate across the education ecosystem, and include our Pre-K-Secondary partners too.
Initiative 1. Education Ecosystems
If Valencia is going to impact education, we need to look beyond our campuses and at the larger educational ecosystem of Central Florida. From the moment a student enters pre-kindergarten to the day she graduates from UCF, she is a product of our community. And the educational performance of this community is judged not on just one college or high school or university, but the performance of the whole system. To get results that will benefit students and the community as a whole, we need seamless pathways that guide students—and data that will guide the decisions of administrators and faculty. Toward that end, we have set two goals that will move toward a seamless educational ecosystem.
Initiative 2. Direct Connect 2.0
Since its inception in 2006, DirectConnect™ to UCF has received national attention and become a model for the rest of the country to emulate. The program has achieved great things for the students and this community: In the 2014-15 graduating class at UCF, 30% of the graduates of color were Valencia grads. Taken together, Valencia graduates made up almost 25% of the UCF graduating class during that year.
Over the past five years, the number of Hispanics who earned a bachelor’s degree at UCF—and graduated from one of the DirectConnect™ partner colleges—jumped 134%. The number of black students who went through DirectConnect™ to earn bachelor’s degrees at UCF during that five years nearly doubled. If we want to change the outlook for families of color in Central Florida, this is the most practical way to do it—through education.
Initiative 3. Online Learning
At Valencia, we pride ourselves on our many excellent professors and instructors and our nationally recognized Teaching/Learning Academy. For decades, Valencia has worked to make the classroom experience top-notch, so that our students can excel. And while we relish the time for students and professors to interact face to face, we also recognize that a growing number of students choose to take courses online. Over the past 10 years, the percentage of Valencia students taking an online course has jumped from 4.9% in 2004-05 to 24.6% in 2014-15.
However, our internal data shows that students in online classes are not as successful as students who learn in a traditional classroom, face-to-face with a professor. In 2007, Valencia data showed that 59.5% of our students taking online classes earned a passing grade, while 72.7% of students who took face-to-face classes passed. Although we’ve narrowed that gap—in 2015, 71.2% of students taking online classes at Valencia passed, while 76.1% of those in face-to-face classes passed—we are committed to giving the online student the same chance for success as that experienced by the student who drives to campus every day.
Initiative 4: New Student Experience
At Valencia, we believe that if students “start right,” they can succeed. And over the years, we’ve made great strides in helping them to start right and get on the right path. The college took an initial step in requiring a New Student Experience (NSE) course that provides an extended orientation to college, integrates student success skills, requires career and academic advising and teaches the student to develop an individualized education plan. Our goal is to ensure that all first-time college students and transfer students will have a plan to graduate.
We are already witnessing good preliminary results. One early success: Students who take NSE appear to be more likely to sign up for classes the next semester—and less likely to drop out—than those who didn’t take the course. In spring 2015, before NSE was launched, Valencia’s “persistence rate”—or the percentage of students taking classes in fall who returned to college during the spring semester—was 76.9%. The next year, after we launched NSE, the percentage of students returning for spring classes had jumped to 82.9%.
Initiative 5: Part-Time Faculty Engagement
Just as Valencia has invested in our Teaching/Learning Academy to support new professors, counselors, and librarians as they improve their professional practices and students’ learning, we plan to invest in the college’s part-time faculty members as well.
Part-time faculty members make up a substantial part of the college’s workforce—and investing in them will pay dividends for our students. During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Valencia employed 1,157 part-time faculty, who taught 6,190 sections—45.9% of all the classes taught.