06-10-11

The Complete College Tennessee Act and Northeast State

Signed into law more than a year ago, the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 seeks to streamline and improve the state’s education pipeline with emphasis on increasing student performance and graduation rates in higher education.

Among other changes, the Act revises funding formulas, stipulates common programs and courses at community colleges, streamlines transfer policies between community colleges and universities, and promotes science, technology, engineering, and math education.

Northeast State Community College has spent the last year carrying out the new initiatives and making a number of changes in curricula, programs, and facilities to meet the guidelines of the legislation.

“This is an immense effort and I’m very proud of the way the College has responded,” said Dr. Janice Gilliam, president. “We’ve come a long way and have achieved several goals and are on the verge of making several more initiatives a reality.”

Northeast State has already experienced gains in critical areas:

  • The College awarded 1,135 certificates and degrees in 2011, a 3.8 percent increase over 2010. Northeast State currently ranks second in graduation rates in the state.
  • The total number of high school graduates enrolling at Northeast State from the College’s five-county service area grew 4.6 percent in 2010 over 2009 – an increase of 229 students.
  • Enrollment at the College’s off-campus teaching sites grew 20 percent from 2009 to 2010. Currently, more than 2,200 students attend classes at the Elizabethton, Gray, and Kingsport teaching sites.

Here are some highlights of Northeast State’s efforts during the past year as related to the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010:

Learning Support 

The Act stipulated a redesign of the developmental studies program – a program that brings students who lack skills in mathematics, writing, and reading to readiness for college-level work. Renamed Learning Support, the program focuses on areas of difficulty students might have without requiring them to spend time on subject matter they have already mastered.

“The idea is to have them complete what they need to know in each program and then move on to college-level work the next semester,” said Nancy Forrester, Northeast State’s director of learning support.

For example, the redesign reduced developmental mathematics from three, three-hour courses to a series of five, one-hour courses, according to Forrester. Each of the one-hour math courses is computer-based instruction, lasting five weeks. As noted, students will only be required to take those courses where they lack mastery of the subject.

Forrester said the College reduced the writing requirements for students with lower placement scores from two, three-hour courses to one five-hour course, allowing students to finish in one semester rather than two. Northeast State’s reading program, which is similar to the redesigned mathematics instruction, has been in place for several years and has become a model in the state. Like mathematics, students are only required to study areas where they lack mastery.

“In all of the programs, the student can exit after he or she has demonstrated they’ve mastered the required material,” Forrester said. “It’s envisioned that this process will move students through developmental courses faster and make them more successful in college-level courses.”

Universal Transfer Pathway 

As part of the Act, community colleges and universities are required to create a universal transfer pathway of 60 hours than can be applied toward bachelor’s degree requirements at public universities. In addition, an associate of science or associate of arts degree graduate from a Tennessee community college will be able to transfer to a state public university as a junior. This effort has involved the development of a common course numbering system that provides students with clear information about transferable c lasses.

“The course numbers at Northeast State should be the same as those at Walters State or East Tennessee State,” said Dr. Lana Hamilton, vice president for academic affairs. “We’ve done that with courses in our 2011-12 catalog and noted whether they are designed for transfer or not designed for transfer.”

For example, Northeast State’s CSCI 1100 – Concepts of Computer Applications is now INFS 1010 – Computer Applications.

“The numbering system streamlines the transfer process and reduces confusion on the part of the student about what will transfer and what will not,” Hamilton said.

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) 

To foster competitiveness and economic growth, the Act stated a need for more science, technology, engineering, and mathematic students.

Northeast State has initiated a pilot program with Dobyns- Bennett High School in Kingsport to encourage students to pursue degrees in the sciences, technologies, engineering, or math. The program identifies young students early in their educational experience and nurtures their interests in technical and scientific studies. As envisioned the program will produce more degreed engineers, scientists, mathematicians and physicists to grow the region’s ability to attract better paying, high technology jobs. Matt DeLozier heads up the initiative as dean of Early Colleges and STEM for Northeast State.

“There is tremendous potential for helping local school districts encourage their students to reach higher educational attainment,” said DeLozier. “Ultimately, our effort will also provide a better trained workforce for economic development in our region and better lives for students.”

Currently, Northeast State and Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport have collaborated to offer classes for Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education, located in downtown Kingsport. Engineering 1110 – Engineering Graphics and PHYS 2010 – Non-Calculus Based Physics I will be taught in the fall, while ENGR 1120 – Engineering Programming and PHYS 2020 – Non-Calculus Based Physic II are slated for spring.

The College recently brought a physics laboratory online to accommodate STEM instruction as well as expand offerings to Northeast State students in health-related and technical education programs. The physics lab will accommodate 24 students per class and serve as both a lecture and lab facility.

“Students will have use of laptops with special software that will allow them to perform hands-on real-time experiments and activities, then give them immediate feedback,” said Dr. Carolyn McCracken, dean of the Science Division. “It allows instructors to be very flexible in that they can move back and forth between lectures and experiments and highlight specific points without waiting to set up an experiment.”

McCracken said the Kingsport Center for Higher Education’s current science labs are already at capacity and she expects the physics lab will experience the same level of activity.

In addition, the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network has begun issuing requests for proposals (RFP) to establish Regional STEM Innovation Hubs, STEM Platform Schools, and a Virtual STEM Platform School/Hub. These efforts will promote information sharing, best practices, and resources to grow effective STEM teaching and learning. The first RFP was issued May 11, 2011 for two Regional STEM Innovation Hubs in Middle and East Tennessee. Other RFPs for two platform schools and two additional hubs are planned for fall 2011.

Sustainability 

As a related part of the state’s move toward science and engineering education, the Act asks for support of clean energies and jobs in Tennessee.

As a result, the College will soon see its heating costs drop with the installation of a state-of-the art system that will replace two antiquated gas-fired boilers. The current boilers, installed in 1991, now run at 80 percent efficiency and must operate at full capacity not matter the heating demand of the College. The new system uses eight condensing boilers, which allow the college to modulate energy capacities and meet heating demands on as-needed basis.

Pete Miller, director of plant operations, said the refrigerator-sized condensing boilers are more economical because their engineering allows them to recycle heat that conventional boilers normally expel. According to Miller, the boilers will operate at 95 percent efficiency and save an estimated $50,000 per year in utility costs. The College anticipates having the new system in place by August 2011.

In another effort, the College is planning a recycling center near the corner of Muddy Creek Road and Aviation Drive. Northeast State will build the concrete pad and Sullivan County will supply and empty the containers. The facility will collect almost anything that is recyclable and will be open for use by the community.

On a smaller scale, the College has placed collection bins around campus to collect paper, cans, and plastic.

Growth and Expansion 

Northeast State’s enrollment increased 24 percent from 2008-09 to 2010-11, creating the need for more additional classroom space.

In response, the College expanded course offerings in Gray to include sections of popular classes that fill quickly. The site will offer nearly 30 classes this summer and fall.

In addition, Northeast State and Tusculum College signed an articulation agreement allowing the seamless transfer for students majoring in selected academic programs at both institutions. The two colleges have maintained a general articulation agreement since 1995. Both institutions reviewed all existing curriculum offerings, matching equivalency courses at both colleges and eliminating the need for students to retake courses or lose earned credit hours. Tusculum opened its Tri-Cities Teaching Center at the Northeast State at Gray teaching site in 2009. The college began conducting cohort classes at the center the same year. Northeast State students admitted to Tusculum may be eligible for merit scholarships based upon academic performance, as well as other forms of financial aid.

At Northeast State’s teaching site in Elizabethton, a multi-phase expansion is under way that more than doubles the College’s physical space to meet the needs of scores of new students enrolling for classes.

“We have been functioning at near full capacity since 2003,” said Dr. Keith Young, executive director of Northeast State at Elizabethton. “As the economy began to deteriorate, our enrollment growth exploded.”

The expansion adds 15,000 square feet of available space to the teaching site. Phases 1 and 2 were completed last summer with two new classrooms, one interactive television (ITV) classroom, one new computer lab, additional restrooms, and new office space for administration. The expansion also creates office space for financial aid, business office, student health, and tutoring service services at the existing entrance.

Enrollment hit a record 653 students last fall. Early projections suggest more than 700 students will be attending Northeast State at Elizabethton this fall and the site will offer more than 100 course sections.

“Now that we have the new capacity,” said Young, “we can explore many new ideas and provide an active learning environment that will assist communities in our service area.”

Lastly, Northeast State is working on a 10-year master plan for facilities and programming services. The plan will include space use analysis, planning, evaluations, scheduling, and other services. The impact of the College’s off-campus sites as well as a new future technical education building will be part of the master plan. The Tennessee Board of Regents has received proposals from five firms specializing in facilities planning and those proposals have been evaluated. TBR will present the evaluations to the State Building Commission for approval in the near future.