FSU Research: Florida’s college continue to make student-centered changes based on 2013 legislation

FSU Professor of Higher Education Shouping Hu.

A new report by Florida State University’s Center for Postsecondary Success found that institutional transformation remains the focus of institutions in the Florida College System as they continue to respond to a state law intended to address student success and developmental education reform in Florida’s colleges.   

Researchers at the Center for Postsecondary Success have been conducting a longitudinal study of how Florida College System institutions, formerly called community colleges, have implemented legislatively mandated developmental education reform (SB 1720) on their campuses. 

As a part of this effort, researchers conducted site visits to nine college campuses from November 2016 to April 2017 to study how the legislation was continuing to be implemented on the ground.

“It is gratifying to notice the concerted effort by college campus communities to adapt to the new policy environment and to focus on student success,” said Shouping Hu, the project lead and the director of the Center for Postsecondary Success. “It is also concerning that campus communities are struggling with adequate financial resources to build sustainable capacity to ensure student success.” 

In the report, “Changes on the Ground: Site Visit Report of the Third Year of Developmental Education Reform in the Florida College System,” researchers highlighted the following: 

  1. Many campus personnel reported that collaboration and coordination improved across campus as a result of the 2013 legislation. However, on many campuses, challenges with collaboration of early alert systems remained. Coordination between different campus stakeholders, particularly faculty and advisers, and data interpretation and sharing also remained a challenge.
  2. The legislation impacted students, institutions and potentially the state of Florida financially. Focus group participants reported that some students had reached their aggregate federal financial aid limit due in part to enrolling in developmental education coursework. Others described negative financial consequences for students from the excess credit accumulation surcharges and out-of-state tuition fees for their third attempt to pass gateway classes (introductory college level courses). Some administrators reported a loss of tuition revenue from lower full-time equivalents and feared performance funding repercussions due to changing student success patterns at their institutions. Participants were concerned about the economic impact of students failing to complete credentials in state colleges for the state.
  3. Faculty reported many more underprepared students were enrolled in gateway courses and feared students were missing the college readiness skills that had previously been taught in developmental education classes. Some faculty reported maintaining rigor in their gateway courses with the influx of underprepared students while others adjusted course expectations for these students.
  4. Students considered effective advising crucial to their success in college. Students reported that specialized advisers were particularly helpful in their course enrollment decisions but also admitted engaging in self-advising. Problems with advising tended to occur around unnecessary coursework and confusion about transfer requirements.
  5. Students had mixed feelings about whether developmental education coursework laid a strong foundation for later coursework or was a “waste of time.” Similarly, some students reported that enrolling in gateway courses had been a mistake while others were pleased with their choice to enroll in these courses rather than developmental education classes. Students characterized effective faculty as accessible, supportive, accommodating and energetic. Ineffective faculty were described as rigid, unsupportive and indifferent to student needs.
  6. Researchers also heard stories of students’ noteworthy resilience and determination, providing a glimpse into the lives of economically disadvantaged students, first-generation college students, immigrant and English language learners, veterans and returning adult students. These populations often encounter threats to their academic success at the college level associated with their identities, including financial concerns, lack of knowledge about college, academic underpreparedness and multiple and competing priorities.

The full research report is available on the CPS website at http://centerforpostsecondarysuccess.org in the publications section.

The Center for Postsecondary Success (CPS) is a research center at Florida State University dedicated to identifying and evaluating institutional, state and federal policies and programs that may serve to improve student success. One way the center does this is by providing support for, and fostering collaboration among, those who are interested in conducting research on student success in postsecondary education. For more information, please visit the CPS website at http://centerforpostsecondarysuccess.org.