ICC grad increase leads state

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

FULTON – Itawamba Community College students are responding to the school’s recent efforts to boost graduations.
During the past academic year, 1,300 ICC students have received degrees or certificates. That’s 419 more graduates than the school produced last year, and the figure does not include those who will graduate this summer.
In fact, ICC’s 47.56 percent increase in the number of graduating students is the highest percentage increase in Mississippi this year.
Across the state, Mississippi’s 15 community colleges have conferred 13,228 degrees during the 2010-11 academic year, an increase of 14.2 percent of 1,873 students from 2009-10.
That increase coincides with increased enrollment. During the past three years, that figure has climbed by 31 percent.
“We are very much encouraging students to stay and get a degree from the community college,” said Eric Clark, Executive Director of the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges.
ICC’s growth comes on the heels of the college forming a task force in September dedicated to increasing graduates and decreasing dropouts.
“Every time we had a meeting with faculty, we went over strategies with regards to communicating with students the value in graduating,” said Mike Eaton, ICC assistant to the president and co-chairman of the school’s Institutional Effectiveness Task Force.
That message was reinforced through signs, e-mails, videos and posters. Staff warned students planning to transfer to a university that they should complete their associate’s degree first so they would have something to fall back upon if they do not complete their university studies.
The task force allowed students to use the Internet to apply for graduation and eliminated the requirement that students must attend commencement ceremonies in order to graduate.
The college conferred degrees to students who had met the graduation requirements but had not applied to do so. Its advisers worked closely with those who neared graduation to ensure they didn’t stumble.
“It wasn’t any rocket science, it was a lot of hard work by a lot of people to do this,” Eaton said.
The graduation rate for this year’s class has not yet been determined. Last year, ICC graduated 22 percent of the students who had enrolled in the college three years earlier.
Community Colleges face a special challenge in their graduation rate because many students enroll there merely to take certain courses or acquire specific skills without any intention to seek an associate’s degree.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com