Because Peru State College is on the Open Pathway for accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), there is a requirement to take on a quality initiative. The quality initiative (QI) is the expectation that an institution undertakes a project focused on quality improvement. The QI takes place between years 5 and 9 of the Open Pathway Cycle. In years 5-7, an institution will put together the quality initiative proposal which will be reviewed by peer reviewers. As long as the proposal has been accepted by HLC, the institution will work on the implementation of the QI in years 7-9. By the end of the 9th year, the institution is expected to submit a final report involving reflection on the strategies and accomplishments and to identify new priorities and challenges. HLC is more concerned with the effort that is being made with the QI, then the evidence of effectiveness.
Peru State College decided to focus on improving the first-year experience. This will involve using a self-study process for the FYE in order to examine existing evidence and practices to identify areas for improvement. The process will be guided by the new Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) First Year Experience Cross-Functional Framework. We anticipate that this process will take about three years and will involve assembling a self-assessment team that will identify evidence, uses the CAS FYE framework to evaluate the evidence, develop and implement an action plan based on the findings, and prepare the final report. This is a continuation of the work that was a result of the retention committee and aligns with an initiative developed through the college’s strategic planning process. CAS promotes intra-campus collaboration and reflects good practices agreed upon by the profession-at-large through the CAS Standards. The First-Year Experience Cross-Functional Framework is the latest of the CAS Standards and was published in 2019. There are six standards and guidelines for the first-year experience in the new CAS framework. They include:
- The Cross-Functional framework part on Charge and Operating Principles addresses the significance of the “position” and “authority” of the individual(s) responsible for charging the team; statements of the purpose or charge and the goals and objectives of the Cross-Functional team; key operating principles, expectations, and desired outcomes (e.g., impact on student learning and development); and accountability.
- The Team Organization and Leadership part addresses composition and size of the team; selection of team members; organizing principles, tenets and structures; leadership responsibility and accountability; terms of service; acknowledgment and recognition; support of and resources for the team.
- The Strategy, Approach, and Processes part addresses how the work of the team is done to achieve desired outcomes: systems and operational models and processes; interconnectedness; strategies for integration of various approaches; issue research, data collection and identification of existing approaches and processes; communication and transparency.
- The Practices and Initiatives part addresses what constitutes the practices, programs or initiatives driven or influenced by the team and shaped by student needs, institutional culture, and environment; attention to quality and integrity of practice and inclusion of various voices and perspectives; ways of navigating points of intersection and interconnection; strategies and tactics for addressing improvement of student learning and program/institutional outcomes.
- The Internal and External Communications part addresses comprehensive and coordinated communication strategies and need for consistent and common messaging within the team, among team members, and with institutional and community constituents; integrated branding; use of various media platforms.
- Assessment addresses aspects of a coordinated effort and plan for assessment pertaining to the issue or topic; impact/effectiveness of team initiatives and strategies; identification of essential data; data collection and sharing protocols; progress toward achievement of goals and targets; dissemination of findings.
The hope is that improvements made to the first-year experience will have a direct impact on student persistence, retention, and completion. The QI proposal was submitted to HLC the summer of 2019 and was approved by peer reviewers. Below highlights the timeline for the QI and any progress made on the project:
Following the CAS standards, identify various terms, such as scope of project, including what the first-year experience includes and who it targets. We would also receive any needed training for the CAS standards. (Step 1)
Make decisions about the self-study process, including who will be involved in the assessment and who will chair the assessment team. (Step 2)
Identify data that would be used for the self-study, including FYE program assessment data, NSSE results, first year focus group data and early alert software data about first year students. (Step 3)
Spring 2020 to Fall 2020
Assess our current practices using the CAS standards and self-assessment guide. This includes compiling data, judging our performance with the CAS rubrics, writing the report with findings. (Steps 4-5)
Develop our action plan based on the self-study results. (Step 6)
Begin implementing Phase I improvements and begin assessment of their results. (Step 7)
Write the report for the Quality Initiative
Fall 2021 and beyond
Implement Phase II improvements and begin assessment of their results. (Step 7)
Review assessment data from Phase I improvements. (Step 7)
Conduct another self-assessment in five years. (Step 1)
Continue to make and assess improvements.