Pellissippi State Community College will receive $2.2 million from the U.S. Department of Education over the next five years as part of its Strengthening Institutions Program. Every two years, the Strengthening Institutions Program competitively selects colleges that demonstrate a commitment to serving low-income students, helping them achieve self-sufficiency.
The Title III grant will aid Pellissippi State in funding its ongoing work to “reimagine” what community college looks like for its first-time freshmen. Pellissippi State is one of four Tennessee community colleges selected by TBR – The College System of Tennessee to pilot a self-designed “Reimagining the Community College” this academic year.
As part of this work, Pellissippi State has assigned all first-time, full-time freshmen a student success team including an academic advisor, a career mentor and a success coach to help them determine their best course of study. The college also has reorganized its academic programs into eight career communities that are intentionally incorporating experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom to give students real-world experience.
“We’re focusing on early introduction to the college experience, helping students navigate their college journey, connecting them to essential resources throughout their initial years, and prepping them for a smooth transition into the workforce or transfer universities,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Rushton Johnson.
Pellissippi State will use its new Title III funds on two interrelated activities: Reimagining the First-Year Experience and Reimagining Career Development.
Reimagining the First-Year Experience for Pellissippi State students will include:
- Enhancing the experience for entering freshmen by pairing them with success teams that include an academic advisor, career mentor and success coach;
- Crafting a unified first-year experience through career communities by grouping related academic programs and majors;
- Expanding pre-college experiences for incoming students to familiarize them with Pellissippi State before classes start; and
- Introducing the MOSAIC Initiative, a program established to create lasting, powerful and intentional connections, particularly for low-income and underserved students.
Meanwhile, Reimagining Career Development will introduce Pellissippi State students to a new model of work-based learning, including:
- Enhancing career awareness, exploration, preparation and training for students in both Career Technical Education programs (two-year degrees that lead straight into the workforce) and those in Tennessee Transfer Pathways (who will finish their degrees at four-year institutions);
- Incorporating career interest evaluations, ensuring early connections to prospective careers and fostering meaningful interactions with faculty and staff who are volunteering as career mentors as well as with alumni and regional business representatives;
- Offering workforce credentialing and professional badging opportunities; and
- Preparing students for Industry-Recognized Certifications (IRC).
By incorporating this kind of culture shift for its first-time students, Pellissippi State aims to increase overall enrollment by 20%; enrollment of first-time, full-time freshmen by 20%, and fall-to-fall retention for first-time, full-time students.
“A cultural shift this significant is already underway, with Pellissippi State’s Stay Strong Student Success Center staff hosting on-campus events to get new students familiar with the college before they arrive and implementing contextualized orientations that speak to students’ academic programs and career aspirations,” Johnson said.
The Success Center is also coaching 1,465 first-time, full-time freshmen with five full-time staff through a strategic partnership with tnAchieves. Through the partnership, Pellissippi State is reaching almost 3,000 Pellissippi State students in alignment with Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr.’s goal to provide every first-time, full-time freshman with a coach.
Pellissippi State’s Stay Strong Student Success Center hosts approximately 250 coaching visits per week. The Title III grant will enable Pellissippi State to hire five new positions to help with this work, including a first-year experience director and a career development/transfer coordinator.