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Presidential Fellow Seeking Ways to Help Students Stay in School, Graduate

October 15, 2014 -- More students than ever are graduating with degrees or certificates from CNM, but there is still room for improvement, says John Diggelman, the college’s new Presidential Fellow for Retention and Graduation
Presidential Fellow Seeking Ways to Help Students Stay in School, Graduate

Jul 16, 2015

He is taking a year off of teaching to figure out how to get more CNM students to stay in school and graduate. Several of the options he is exploring will need faculty and administration endorsement.

One way, he believes, is to provide extra help to struggling students, meaning more one-on-one instruction by faculty and tutors, to make it possible for them to pass the course. 

“By correlating early student homework assignments, attendance and exam grades to end of semester outcomes, it’s possible to identify at-risk students early in the term,” Diggelman said. “Then, instructors could give these students personal letters warning that they are in danger of failing and offering regularly scheduled office hours to help with learning the material.”

The economics instructor has used this method in his macroeconomics sections (ECON 2200) for several years with some success. By looking at the select criteria, he figured out which students were at-risk and established regular meetings with these students in which he personally went over the learning material with them, making sure they understood it.

He’s encouraging other faculty members to do the same in their classes, and he’s volunteered to do all the data analysis, if the instructors provide him with information from their gradebooks. So far, several instructors have taken him up on his offer, but he anticipates many more as the year goes on.

To see if the notification letters and extra office hours are helping students, Diggelman encourages the instructors to join a randomized trial. Faculty who teach several sections of the same course would try the new method of sending notification letters based on a student’s progress during the first six weeks of class in only half of their sections. In the other half they would teach as usual. That way he could evaluate the effectiveness of the notification letters and increased tutoring.

“This experimental approach to educational research would have been extremely rare even 15 years ago,” Diggelman said “Now it has become more common”

Diggelman is excited about CNM’s new accelerated programs. The School of Business & Information Technology rolled out the fast-track business degree this year, and the School of Communication, Humanities & Social Sciences is working on an accelerated liberal arts degree. The fast track business degree maps out every course that a cohort of students will take together, and provides them with a faculty mentor. He’s interested in translating some of the features that help students succeed into more degrees at CNM.

“Other community colleges have helped more students graduate by providing more structure and less choice,” Diggelman said. “The question for us at CNM is how can we give liberal arts and other transfer students a clearly defined pathway to graduation?” 

Diggelman teaches in CNM's School of Communication, Humanities & Social Sciences.