Face Off: Student experience remains a critical investment

Face Off: Student experience remains a critical investment

2023-02-03T13:01:12-05:00February 3rd, 2023|Education, Face Off, Nashville|

Writer: Joshua Andino 

2 min read February 2023 — Whether it be dual enrollment, investment in technology or continuing to roll out new programs, community colleges remain committed to enhancing the student experience. Over the course of the last year, Invest: spoke with two of the leaders of Nashville’s premier community colleges — Janet Smith, the president of Columbia State Community College, and Shanna Jackson, the president of Nashville State Community College — and discussed all that they are implementing and doing to stay student-minded. 


What is the importance of dual enrollment?

Janet Smith: Dual enrollment provides high school students the opportunity to experience college while in high school, as well as obtain credits that springboard them into their chosen career field. Our enrollment at this point exceeds where we were in 2019, thus, our dual enrollment is making a strong comeback. The majority of our dual enrollment students are individuals seeking to complete general education courses of English and mathematics. In addition, we have a considerable enrollment in technical programs like our engineering systems technology program (mechatronics). We have certificate programs in multiple high schools throughout our service area, which are modeled after our Fairview High School program in Williamson County. Through that partnership, we offer a dual enrollment and dual credit program that leads to an Associate of Applied Science degree. The program was designed so students can obtain a certificate program or receive a degree in high school. We are now in seven other high schools and received a state grant for EMS. We will begin this as a dual enrollment for Fall 2022. 

We expect that the cybersecurity mobile lab, which is a partnership with Williamson County Schools, will be implemented in 2022-23. This is an exciting project and much needed for the Nashville metro area and southern region.

Shanna Jackson: In the Fall of 2021, we saw growth in dual enrollment from 2020. Part of it is due to our strong relationships with our area public schools and our Better Together partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools.  As an example, one Metro high school only had one dual enrollment course; this fall they are offering three. This is due to the relationships we’re building. Another reason is we are addressing equity issues in policies. In the Fall of 2020, we did a pilot where we changed the GPA and admission criteria to take dual enrollment courses. The pilot was successful and the policy was changed. We are excited that the state is now fully funding dual enrollment which will also help close the equity gap. 

We also started an early college at Whites Creek High School. Through a generous grant by PNC Bank, we were able to fund four years of early college for 40 students. These students started taking dual enrollment classes as freshmen this spring. Every year, they’re going to take dual enrollment. In addition, wrap around support, summer experiences and mentoring is included. We understand not every student will complete a degree by high school graduation, but they will have significant college credit when they leave and will have more exposure to their surroundings. 

What is the current makeup of students at the college? 

Smith: Currently we are experiencing a growth in part-time students than in recent years. We are still principally a younger student population, but have had an increase in adults, which is related to the Tennessee Reconnect. The Tennessee Reconnect is a grant program for individuals who have not obtained an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. We continue to market the program so adults know they can complete the degree they didn’t finish or select a new field and complete a degree there.   

What is Nashville State Community College doing in order to help the students with their mental health? 

Jackson: Nashville State Community College does not have mental health counselors, but we have invested heavily in providing access to mental health professionals through vouchers and other referrals. We’ve been educating our staff and faculty to know when and how to connect students to resources. We recognize that it’s not only students that need assistance with their mental health because there’s also staff.

What developments and programs have been recently implemented and/or are being implemented at your college to continue to serve students? 

Smith: Columbia State is in the process of constructing on our Williamson Campus, an arts and technology facility that will be dedicated to computer and information technology programs. It will also include an innovation center, graphic arts program, and a small lecture auditorium. It will be the largest building on that campus and will provide opportunities for new programs like cybersecurity and data analytics. 

On the Columbia Campus, we are looking for a designer for the Southern Regional Technology Center. The SRTC will house Columbia State allied health programs as well as those provided by TCAT Hohenwald. The industrial section of this facility will house manufacturing and industry programs from Columbia State, TCAT Hohenwald, and TCAT Pulaski. Those programs include CNC, mechatronics, and automotive. The SRTC is a partnership between the Columbia industries, the community and the three colleges.   

Jackson: We opened a brand-new campus, which is our fourth campus in Davidson County. The North Davidson area has been underserved for a long period. It took us a little longer than expected to complete due to the pandemic; however, it’s now open and gearing up for students in the fall of 2022. We had a beautiful ribbon cutting, and when it occurred, we had a great story about a student who’s working three jobs but wants to be in the nursing program. Due to the campus being located in an area that’s close to home, she can take her daughter to school and go to school herself.

The other thing we’ve done this year is launch our Vision 2030, a Student Ready College strategic plan. The words are intentional. Most colleges are built for college-ready students. We’re transforming our culture to focus on meeting our students where they are. We’re an open-door institution, so our focus is being ready to serve the students who come to us regardless of their readiness for college. We still have a way to go; however, we feel good about the direction we’re headed. 

Also, we have a new program in data analytics, which is coming this fall. Despite having cyber security, networking and programming, we didn’t have data analytics. Lastly, we’ve been doing a lot in workforce development. We’ve been talking to employers, and there’s a need in every area you can imagine. We developed some exciting partnerships in Healthcare with HCA and Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).  In both cases, we developed the curriculum together. 

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