Needs Assessments

Landmark staff conducted a series of needs assessments of community college technology programs and regional technology employers to determine gaps between what employers expected and students were prepared to do. The results of these needs assessments are summarized in the assessment themes report (below). The interview questions are available in our ATE Assessment Instrument [pdf].

Themes from ATE Needs Assessments

Overview

The needs assessment process is designed to facilitate the identification of strengths, needs, barriers, and opportunities at educational institutions. This process is often used to develop a better understanding of an institution’s educational infrastructure (“ecology”) as a whole, as well as to identify a plan of activities, professional development, and research based on an institution’s specific strengths and needs. While the needs assessments conducted at the three ATE partner sites reveal a rich source of information about each community college’s characteristics, issues, and strengths, many common themes emerged.

This report provides a high-level overview of the major issues, strengths, and needs identified at partner sites. Note that this information is not meant to imply that every community college system has a stated issue, strength, or need, but rather that enough colleges are dealing with similar issues to warrant mentioning them as themes for the group of partners.

Strengths and Opportunities

The needs assessment team observed a number of common strengths and opportunities at many of the community college campuses, and a brief description of these is provided below. Some of these strengths may be seen as contradictory to the issues and needs sections in this report, but this is due to the fact that some colleges and campuses exhibited needs, while others revealed strengths and opportunities. The presence of these strengths on some campuses will be used to help identify learning opportunities, such as pairing a partner college that highlights a specific strength with one that has an associated need.

1. Strong community support for technical programs

Personnel at the partner colleges indicated strong community support for technical programs.  Regional employers demonstrate their commitment to technical programs in several ways including serving on program advisory boards and providing feedback on the abilities and skills of recent program graduates.  Community service organizations including vocational rehabilitation and career service providers support students in selecting, graduating from, and obtaining a job in technical occupations.  Colleges also work closely with their region’s workforce investment boards to identify and establish technical programs to meet the needs of the region.

2. Development of strong relationships between colleges and area high schools

Partner colleges demonstrated the desire to build strong relationships with area high schools to encourage prospective students into technical programs.  Such programs include outreach to high school students through dual-enrollment opportunities, college application workshops, campus tours, and mentoring programs.  Additionally, several faculty members at partner colleges reported pursuing grant activities that benefit area high schools in various ways such as improving resources available to high schools and pairing college and high school educators together.

 3. Absence of academic prerequisites in technical programs capture students interests

Although the technical programs at partner colleges do have requirements for completing academic courses, students may enroll in selected core technical courses before or while completing academic prerequisites.  Faculty, staff, and students at these colleges indicate that this is an asset to technical programs because it engages students who may otherwise be discouraged taking only academic courses during their first semester.  Students also reported that this exposure to technical courses afforded them a deeper understanding of the relevance of academic concepts to technical programs.  Although not supported by quantitative data, interviewees indicated this approach, unique mainly to technical programs, increased retention and graduation rates among students in technical programs compared to other academic programs.

4. Faculty take note of struggling students and refer students to disability services

Faculty participants at partner colleges acknowledge and accept their role in assisting struggling students by referring these students to the disability services office.  Although faculty do not specialize in why a student may be struggling, the consistency of classroom interaction enables faculty to identify struggling students and discuss options such as disability services with students.  For instance, at one partner college faculty are provided with paper referrals that they provide to struggling students.  Students fill the short form out, faculty members turn the forms into the disability services office, and someone from disability services contacts the student directly.

 5. Technical faculty have a strong desire to engage students and help them succeed

The actions and demeanor of technical faculty at partner colleges provide a welcoming and engaging atmosphere that promotes success among students.  This atmosphere, which is supported by the applied, hands-on nature of technical programs, enables technical faculty to consistently engage with students in the classroom and create a more personal relationship.  In addition to standard coursework discussions, faculty and students report using classroom interactions to get to know each other on an individual level.  Many technical faculty use these interactions as opportunities to encourage students through more informal circumstances that may not be included in the classroom curriculum such as goal setting, workplace etiquette, and informal communications.

Issues-in-Brief

The needs assessment process helped the team identify multiple issues and challenges that personnel at each campus must face in order to deliver services to all students. These issues are summarized in this section as seven general themes.

1. College-wide advising services do not specialize in technical programs

Although partner colleges offer college-wide advising services, these services are not specialized to the unique benefits of technical programs.  Many technical faculty indicate that they often act in an informal advisory capacity to students.  Although this increases faculty workload, it also usually guarantees that students who may otherwise take only developmental courses get placed into at least one basic technical course.  Students indicate that college-wide advisors are not always knowledgeable about technical programs or do not always understand the importance associated with taking at least one technical course in the first semester.  By taking at least one technical course in their first semester, students feel motivated to work through developmental courses and move onto credit-bearing courses.

2. Understanding of disability law, awareness of learning disabilities, and principles to support students with diverse learning needs

Faculty and staff at partner colleges indicate that they rely heavily on disability services personnel for information about disability law, accommodations, and learning disabilities in general.  This unawareness about rights and responsibilities under disability law among faculty has resulted in several faculty over-accommodating students in the classroom.  Faculty are generally eager to understand and apply approaches and strategies that can benefit all students.  For instance, several faculty report trying out new methods of classroom instruction that may be more supportive to the needs of struggling students including the use of technology and small group work.

3. Lack of student preparedness in the areas of Reading, Writing, and Mathematics

Discussions surrounding the academic preparedness reveal that many students are underprepared to perform college-level work because of a lack of basic skills in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics.  Partner colleges report a high number of students placing into developmental English and mathematics courses.  Additionally, technical and academic faculty indicate students struggle in the classroom with reading comprehension as well as writing and composition.  In several cases, faculty report that students could read materials but could not summarize what they had read or apply it in real-world situations.  Faculty and students alike acknowledge students’ difficulty in mastering basic math skills that enable students to gain access to college-level math courses.

4. Follow-through on student success once students have entered the workforce

Partner colleges generally do not maintain any student success data once students have graduated from a technical degree or certificate program.  Efforts to follow through on student success are limited to organic efforts of faculty and graduates, making it difficult to establish how well programs are preparing students for careers in the technical workforce.  Partner colleges do indicate that area employers may provide feedback on student interns and program graduates as part of advisory board activities.

5. Approach for supporting specific student populations

Faculty and disability services personnel report difficulties supporting specific student populations at their respective colleges.  Although the specific populations each college is faced with is unique, ranging from returning veterans to students with autism spectrum disorders, these growing student populations present partner colleges with similar challenges in terms of capacity building and services offered.  Partner colleges continue to explore approaches and strategies for addressing the unique needs of these specific student populations both in and out of the classroom.

6. Availability of specific resources and services

Faculty and staff indicate a shortage of certain resources and services at some locations.  A need for additional tutoring services was often mentioned, especially subject-specific tutoring as well as higher-level math tutoring.  Partner colleges also report a need for additional space at many of their campuses.  Additionally, systems with multiple campuses report inconsistencies in resources across campuses, with campuses in more affluent areas often having better resources than those located elsewhere.

7. Lack of soft skills and employable skills among students

Faculty, staff, and community members at partner colleges express concerns that students do not possess the soft skills necessary to get and hold employment.  Many students, especially those who have never been in the workforce, struggle with basic employable skills including teamwork, communications, time management, organization, and basic business etiquette.  Partner colleges do report including soft skills and employable skills in their first-year student success courses however not all students are required to take these courses.  Additionally, technical faculty indicate building career-specific soft skills into course curriculum and working directly with students to explain the importance and relevance of these skills in the workplace.

Professional Development Needs

The needs assessment process serves multiple objectives of the assessment team, including development of a better understanding of each college, as well as identifying specific resources and professional development opportunities that may be appropriate for each college. Listed below are a number of professional development opportunities identified as relevant for the ATE community college partners.

Introduction to Learning Disabilities (LD)

Faculty, staff, and community service providers expressed an interest in learning more about LD, including the ability to assess whether one might be struggling with LD-related issues, and effective practices that faculty and service providers can use to support students with diverse learning profiles.

Universal Design for Instruction (UDI)

Faculty, staff, and community service providers can benefit from a review of the UDI philosophy, which incorporates a number of principles developed to ensure that teaching and instructional techniques encompass a wide range of learners with diverse abilities.

Understanding of At-risk Populations and Techniques for Instruction

Administrators, staff, instructors and community service providers identified various at-risk student populations that are struggling.  This workshop would help instructors understand the kinds of issues faced by struggling students, and the kinds of instruction that can be used to promote learning of many struggling populations.

Mathematics Support

Several interviewees discussed the underpreparedness of students in the area of mathematics including developmental math and college-level math.  This workshop will cover multimodal techniques and other practices that can be used to promote math learning among students with diverse learning profiles.

Reading Support

Faculty and community service providers reported reading difficulties among students, especially reading comprehension and information application.  This workshop will present research-based best practices for improving reading comprehension among students.

Writing Support

Several instructors reported that many students lack college-level writing and composition skills.  This workshop will review best practices for teaching writing to struggling students as a process within the context of a universally designed classroom.

Assistive Technology and Learning Strategies

As more colleges invest in technologies and resources to support students, instructors are faced with the dilemma of having technology without an understanding of the specific learning strategies that can be used to improve instruction and learning using these technology resources.  This workshop will provide faculty and staff with instruction in specific learning strategies, such as developing reading comprehension with text-to-speech software, note-taking strategies with technology assistance, and ways to use technology tools to support the writing process.

Accommodations and Disability Law

Faculty members reported relying on disability services personnel for information about rights and responsibilities under disability law.  This workshop will provide a high-level overview of disability law in the postsecondary environment and provide specific instruction on providing accommodations in the classroom.

Transitions (post-graduate job skills)

Several instructors and community service providers identified a need for improved employable skills and soft skills among students entering the workforce.  This workshop will provide faculty with strategies and approaches for teaching soft skills and help faculty identify areas in their curriculum that may be appropriate for incorporating such strategies.