College Policies: Helping or Hindering Student Success

by Charron Banaszak, Peggy Gundrum, Sean Jensen, Greg Robinson, Annamarie Schopen, and Marcy Thompson / Mar 2, 2017

Have you ever uncovered a problem after diving into data, then digging into more data hoping to find answers, but only finding more questions? At what point do you stop going down the rabbit hole and come up for air? Elgin Community College (ECC) dealt with that very issue.

In 2009, ECC joined the Achieving the Dream (AtD) initiative, which provides the infrastructure and support for data-driven decisions. Participating in AtD increased our institutional capacity for collecting data and as a result when we began our Pathways to Results (PTR) journey, we were very successful in gathering our data, analyzing our data, and developing the goals of our project.  The final project plan consisted of three goals:

  • GOAL 1:  Provide students pathways toward degree completion based on student placement and program of study.
  • GOAL 2: Implement a process to code and track “undecided” students.
  • GOAL 3:  Provide alternative methods to connect students (who may or may not seek the assistance of an advisor) with course planning navigational tools.

Through further analysis of the data, debate, and discussion, the workgroup came to realize two of the three goals directly correlated with institutional policies that the college adopted and implemented. 

One of these policies impacted the coding of undecided students.  Students whose program of study is “undecided” at the time of admission are automatically coded an ARTS.AA program of study (philosophically, the institution has been resistant to place students in an undeclared major because an “undecided” program of study is not eligible for financial aid).  Consequently, students who have been coded ARTS.AA by default may not be receiving appropriate resources or information that may be instrumental in choosing a program of study.  In addition, as a result of this practice, the college has been unable to track true ARTS.AA degree-seeking students versus those that are “undecided.” Through the work of this PTR project, the college recognized that this practice has been masking an equity gap.  As a result, by collaborating with multiple departments on campus, we have been able to identify a new process to code and track “undecided” students more efficiently and effectively. Now that we know who our “undecided” students are, we are better equipped to provide them with the resources they need to be successful.


A second policy required students to meet a minimum level of competency in reading, writing, and math before enrolling in college-level course work.  While this policy proves to be effective in course success rates, the unintended consequence is that students are forced to delay taking college-level courses. Through this PTR grant, Elgin Community College will be piloting a program to allow students access to general education coursework while co-enrolling in a supported combination developmental-level/college-level English course. The goal of this pilot is to provide students the potential to earn between six and nine college-level, transferrable credits during their first semester, when normally they would not have access to these courses until possibly two or three semesters later. 

Have you ever realized that a college policy that was put into place years ago with the intent to support students actually had unintended consequences that were discovered years later? How did you handle the situation? Did you change the policy or did you find a way to work with it, not against it, like we did!