Foundational Skills Innovation Spotlight: Nash Community College

In this series, we highlight exceptional responses we’ve seen on the part of higher education institutions to the many challenges endemic to America’s foundational skills crisis. We’ve interviewed dozens of provosts and chief academic officers as part of our research into this area, and these are some of the most noteworthy practices we’ve come across. This month we profiled Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. As a greater responsibility for student outcomes has been placed on institutions, Nash Community College assessed instructor performance and investigated strategies to improve faculty teaching skills.

Key Player: Trent Mohrbutter, Vice President for Instruction, and Chief Academic Officer

Trent Mohrbutter led the initiative to improve faculty teaching performance, and established the Gen Ed Student Learning Outcomes Team (GSLOT), which includes faculty representatives from Communications, Computer Integrated Skills, and the Humanities course on Critical Thinking.

The Challenge: Improving Faculty Performance to Better Instill Foundational Skills in Students

NCC recognized that they had a moral imperative to cultivate strong foundational skills (critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and information literacy), however students were not receiving adequate instruction in this area. Accrediting bodies require instructors to have a master’s degree in their discipline, but the more subjective question of whether or not they are “good teachers” is rarely prioritized. Mohrbutter realized that very few higher ed faculty have had actual training in instruction, and wanted to address this proactively.

The Innovation: A Common Instructional Framework Leads to Increased Retention Levels

The GSLOT team builds a report every semester, analyzing skill areas that are a success, as well as those requiring improvement. This has led to the development of a common Instructional Framework around foundational skills, and a common Instructional Language for describing the skills. Using tools like Avid for Higher Education, NCC has worked to advance faculty’s ability to effectively teach foundational skills. From this program they have adopted several new strategies for helping students, including the creation of the Centers of Excellence, an unofficial writing center for students who need help in English and Reading.

Retention has greatly improved throughout this initiative: climbing from ~45%, to over 50%, and then all the way into the mid-70% range! By increasing retention, the campus has successfully increased FTE enrollments from 2800 to 3600 at a time when their five neighboring community colleges have lost 20-25% of their headcount.