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CWC cohort groups helping more students complete their programs

Oct 31, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Students involved in learning community cohort groups at Central Wyoming College are more likely to succeed in school according to officials, who presented information about the cohort initiative Wednesday during a CWC Board of Trustees meeting.

Martha Davey, associate vice president for academic services at CWC, defined "cohorts" as groups of learners who come together in a structured environment to learn a new skill or improve existing skills. She said three cohort communities have been developed at CWC since 2011, including general equivalency degree cohorts, bridge cohorts and nursing cohorts.

Nursing cohort

Davey said the nursing cohort was formed in 2011 in an effort to increase retention at CWC's nursing program. Students who are most likely to drop out join the cohort, where Davey said they review the nursing program's structure and work load and identify categories that would routinely cause students to struggle in class.

"We determined that first-year students were most at risk," Davey said. "Then we came up with early warning signs and intervention strategies."

Nursing faculty are working to collaborate more to meet individual students' needs, she added. They also adjusted program admission requirements based on five years of entrance data.

Davey said CWC's retention rate for nursing students involved in cohort groups rose from 50 percent to 90 percent in one year.

"It was unbelievable, remarkable," she said. "The nursing cohort graduation rate rose from 55 percent to 79 percent. ... Totally awesome."

The effort also affected CWC nursing students' ability to pass their National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Davey said CWC's first-time NCLEX-RN pass rate rose from 83 percent to 96 percent after the cohort groups were initiated.

Bridge cohort

The bridge cohort was designed to help students hone their skills during summer months when they may not attend regular classes. Davey said the first group in the summer of 2011 included 22 students, 96 percent of whom completed the course. Eight-one percent of the students enrolled for school in fall of 2011, and 77 percent enrolled in a follow-up course, which logged a 71 percent completion rate.

"Fall-to-fall 2011 to 2012 we had a retention rate of 56 percent, which is as good as the State of Wyoming's retention rate for fall-to-fall students for last year," Davey said.

The summer 2012 group included 17 students and saw 82 percent completion. Eighty-eight percent of the group enrolled for classes this fall, and 86 percent enrolled in a followup course.

GED cohort

Students in the GED cohort usually are new to CWC services, Davey said.

"That's the first time we get a chance to have potential CWC students here," she said. "They come in through programs to complete their GED requirements."

For the first attempt at GED cohorts in spring of 2011, Davey said students were not divided by grade level or ability, and only 36 percent of people completed the program. CWC staff reviewed the cohort and decided in fall of 2011 to break students up into two groups -- one for students who are ready to complete their GED requirements and another for students who may have more work to do.

"The completion rate rose to 62 percent, which was phenomenal," Davey said, adding that the most recent cohort group in spring of 2012 saw 63 percent completion.

Davey said she has been working to facilitate a greater connection with the college for new students. Though they are not enrolled in a course for credit, GED students receive a CWC identification card, and recruiters are notified of the potential for new enrollments. Davey said advisers, financial aid employees and other staff members also make contact with the students to inform them about educational opportunities for the future.

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Central Wyoming College