RAPID CITY, S.D. — Student satisfaction with academic services reached record lows at a technical college in western South Dakota five years ago.

School officials decided to make changes, and the turnaround has been dramatic.

Western Dakota Tech was ranked in the eighth percentile on the National Community College Benchmark Project survey in 2012, meaning that 92 percent of schools did better.

“Students felt like they were getting the runaround,” said Debbie Toms, the school’s student success director.

In response, Western Dakota Tech assigned a success coach to every student and created a student success center in the fall of 2014, the Rapid City Journal reported . Success coaches were set up to identify creative solutions to student issues, like transportation problems or child-care needs. Coaches will address all issues essential to a student’s success before classes begin, including housing, tutoring, or unfamiliarity with the college. This gives students an understanding that there’s a place to go should any unpredictable setbacks occur in the future.

By 2017, Western Dakota Tech jumped to the 79th percentile on student satisfaction with academic services. Other satisfaction areas also showed significant improvements.

Jill Elder, admissions and financial aid director, said underlying the big change was the decision to re-focus on student success over education delivery. “It’s a student-first model,” Elder said.

The spike in satisfaction is also a result of learning to tailor assistance to a diverse group of students.

After opening the Student Success Center, the school saw a 4 percent increase in students returning for the second semester and a 6 percent increase in students returning for the second year. Western Dakota Tech also found that the percentage of courses dropped by students fell by 5 percent.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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