by William McKee June 5th, 2012
Next fall Community Colleges of Spokane (CCS) hopes to begin trial phases of a new honors program at its schools. CCS has published a request for proposals (RFP) from consulting firms to help create an honors program that will increase enrollment and revenues at Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College.
According to the RFP, courses for the honors program will be developed and students recruited this summer. Next fall the two schools will pilot a total of three to five honors classes for as many as 100 students and provide some support services. More planning, design, recruitment and marketing will unfold leading up to fall 2013 when the honors program will officially start, with the goal of eventually enrolling 300 students.
Consultant candidates were required to submit written proposals to CCS by May 29 outlining their experience and how they plan to meet assignments including:
CCS officials declined comment on the planned honors program RFP, citing the pending contract award decision. So we spoke to others familiar with the general landscape.
Community colleges, transfers, and debt containment
As higher education gets more expensive, more students are starting off at community and technical colleges to save money. “The average student is leaving school with a huge amount of debt, and at the same time we hear about nobody being able to get a job. Lots of people have the opportunity to go to a great college or university, but don’t want to acquire that massive debt,” said Dr. Kelly Ward, chair and professor of the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology at Washington State University’s main campus in Pullman. She explains that starting out at a community college, where tuition is much lower than at most four-year colleges, is a way many students are containing that debt.
David Prince, a senior manager of research and analysis at Washington’s State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), said that according to a 2009 study by that agency, community and technical (two-year) college transfer students were 38 percent of graduates of four-year public colleges in Washington State in 2006.
Chris Rose, 23, attended CCS from 2008 through 2010. After getting his associate’s degree, he transferred to WSU and graduated this past May with a degree in communication-advertising. He’s currently working for WSU’s Alive! Program which helps orient new students. He said that overall he had “a positive experience at CCS. It helped me complete years of my education while saving money at a lower cost of attendance.” CCS full-time tuition in 2010-11 was $2,901.
Intimacy, cohesion are benefits, too
Whether at a four-year or two-year college, honors programs tend to result in closer relationships with teachers and better student-teacher ratios. Dr. Elizabeth A. Walker is the Dean of the Honors College at WSU. She used her own honors college as an example. “We hold all of our classes to 25 students, and many of them have fewer,” said Walker. “And they’re all taught by faculty members. So that means the students have the benefit of working closely with some of the best teachers on the campus.”
Dr. Ward agreed. She said it’s not just about working more closely with faculty, though. ‘What honors programs do in general is to create a cluster of the best of the best, to create a college within a college,” said Ward. “The student is part of a smaller, more tight-knit group, offering unique experiences. What it does is create a community for those students, which I think enhances their experience on campus.”
Students in honors programs generally have to take certain classes that are designated as honors courses, attend special seminars, and complete an honors thesis or honors project. “The signature experiences vary depending on the program,” said Ward, “but those are typically the ways honors programs differ from those of regular students.”
eLearning a priority
One key criterion for contractors applying for the work at CCS is expertise with two-year honors programs at community colleges. Another is close familiarity with Canvas Learning Management System (Canvas LMS) for distance learning.
According to the 2010-11 Annual Report from the state’s community college board , two-year institutions last school year in Washington served 31,394 full-time enrolled students (FTES) through eLearning programs, an increase of only 1.6 percent from the previous year after “a number of years of double-digit growth.” Full-time students enrolled in hybrid courses in 2010-11 increased by 12 percent from the year before. These classes combine the face-to-face class experience with supplemental on-line instruction.
CCS is aiming to finalize by July 2 any agreements with a winning bidder or bidder consortium for the honors program services. No initial price cap is stated in the RFP; start-up and ongoing costs aren’t yet clear. The CCS system has combined enrollment of 18,680. Its service area is 12,302 square miles, serving Spokane, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille and portions of Lincoln Counties in eastern Washington. Its annual budget is $90 million, the vast bulk coming from the state.