It is so hard to believe that another summer has flown by, and the students of North Central Texas College are back full time on our campuses. As I think about this time of year, I remember my first days as a freshman and the shear panic of attending a university with an enrollment ten times larger than my high school. As I see the students arrive I try to place myself in the “shoes of the student.” How do they feel? What experiences have led them to this moment in time? Are they excited? Is this their first experience with higher education? What can colleges and universities do to be “student ready”? And, how can we work toward reducing student debt, promoting student success and improving graduation rates?

Many college educators and administrators are worried about how prepared Texas students are for college and the job market. According to the Texas Higher Education Almanac, of a group of 100 eighth graders who were enrolled in 2007, only 78 of those students graduated from a public high school. Only 54 of those 100 enrolled in college, and 23 of those 100 students earned a college degree or certificate.

In other words, 77 out of 100 students never complete their education at a college or university.

Of those 23 students who do make it to the university, many are not ready for their college courses. According to the book “Becoming a Student Ready College,” for many years, colleges and universities expected that students would be prepared when they entered our classrooms. But the truth is that, in Texas, 40% of students were not prepared for college, meaning that they did not have basic proficiency in math, reading and writing. And consider this, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics there are currently 20 million students enrolled in college, but only four out of 10 Americans actually hold a college degree or credential.

These statistics mean that college faculty and administrators must ask ourselves: What can we do to meet students where they are and to get them where they need to be? How do we ensure college graduates that are workforce ready? How do we meet the demand between serving students, responding to market demand, and competing tensions in higher education?

To many community colleges, this has meant a significant shift in how we advise, test, admit and enroll students. It also means that we offer more courses that help students fill in those knowledge gaps and offer classes that help support student in their credit classes.

At North Central Texas College, we have done this by pairing students with their own adviser who will work with them throughout their academic career. We have also worked with the college’s Testing Center to help students move through the application process so that it is easier to enroll in classes. We have worked to create seamless pathways to universities without students losing any credit hours in transfer.

We also have more mentoring programs than ever: Our TRIO program is very successful by working with first-generation and low-income college students. We have expanded our tutoring services, and our faculty spend more time working individually with students to help them progress in their courses. We have reduced the cost of course materials by faculty writing their own textbooks.

I have a plaque in my office that reads: “Change is great. You go first.” As higher education sees a significant shift in approach, we’re excited to innovate at North Central Texas College. We are doing the work to make the changes. We invite North Texans to join us! Students First!

Brent Wallace joined North Central Texas College in fall 2011 as the vice president of instruction/chief academic officer. He has served as chancellor and chief executive officer since 2014.

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