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Editor's note:  With Heartland Community College (HCC) celebrating its 25th year of operation, President Rob Widmer  is writing a series of guest commentaries to highlight how Illinois community colleges serve their districts and address the needs of students.

A core component of community colleges is open access, which means at Heartland Community College we accept anyone who wants to learn. This gives us a population of students who have a wide variety of readiness levels, needs and goals.

For some, it takes extra determination to finish what they set out to accomplish. After enrolling, family obligations, learning issues or financial challenges can hinder progress.

At Heartland, our top priority is ensuring students persist and ultimately succeed. We offer deeply intentional supports like special library services, financial aid, scholarships, tutoring, counseling, a fitness center and more. Each is a different way to foster student persistence.

As we continue improving our services at Heartland, it’s essential we examine which supports matter and contribute most to student success.

We first have to know what each student hopes to accomplish.

When applying at Heartland, we ask students to indicate their intent, such as whether they are working toward a degree, or simply wanting to take one or two classes. They also can volunteer information such as being a first-generation college student or someone transitioning out of the workforce.

These insights give us data to target our support efforts and ensure that students know about all the resources available to them.

While enrolled, students continue to get personalized support. We closely monitor academic progress. If at-risk students are identified, our advisers quickly communicate and connect them with appropriate resources to help them overcome their challenges.

Data also provides insight on academic areas.

Programs are reviewed every five years. The information gathered helps us identify success rates in courses and determine whether we need to change a course sequence or add a component to a prerequisite class so students enter the next course better prepared.

For example, data recently indicated our online courses had a higher withdrawal rate. To ensure stronger persistence levels, more information was provided to students prior to enrollment so they could determine if online learning was a good fit for them as a learner.

Our intentional efforts are paying off. Since fall 2013, Heartland has seen a steady increase of students persisting from fall to spring — returning to school and continuing progress toward their academic goal. It’s exactly the outcome we hope for because when our students succeed, the community benefits.


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