Don’t wait…graduate

One morning in February, Liz Bradley, an academic advisor at TCC Northwest, was working with a veteran student in her office. She ran a degree audit for him and saw that he was just two courses away from graduating.

Remembering the moment, Bradley said, “He gave me a big hug. You could just tell that this was the best news in the world to him at that moment.” The student was in Bradley’s office because he had been contacted as part of TCC Northwest’s Don’t Wait, Graduate! program.

“Each spring semester, we receive the near-completers list, which is a list of every student who is within 12 hours of graduating. This year, that list had 931 students who are close to completing their Associate of Arts or Associate of Science,” said Lily Covio-Calzada, director of Counseling and Advising at TCC Northwest.

Once that list is received, the students are divided among all of the academic advisors who, in turn, run degree audits for each student and then contact them via phone or email to let them know they are close to completing a TCC credential and what courses they need to take to graduate. “It’s really personalized to each student,” Covio-Calzada said. “It’s based on where they are at in their education. We try to make these contacts as personal and personalized as we can.”

Christina Martinez, coordinator of special projects, plays a logistical role in this project. Upon receiving the near-completers list from District records, she uses the information provided to create caseloads for each of the academic advisors. Information gathered from the advisors throughout the process, such as the courses each student is lacking, and their current course enrollments, are then further used to better inform and support the Don’t Wait, Graduate effort.

Martinez also works on ways to involve faculty in this project. This includes sharing an impact statement that they can include in their Instructor’s Course Requirements as well as providing them a list of students in their courses who are nearing completion of a TCC credential. Martinez thinks this piece of the initiative is especially crucial.

“For those of us who work in higher education, every day we see the positive impacts that education has on our students,” she said. “Their lives, and the lives of their families. Through this effort we truly strive to articulate these benefits that our students may not be aware of, and continue to let them know that we are here to support them as they approach the finish line.”

When Bradley receives her list of students, she runs a degree audit for every one of them and then begins to contact them. “A lot of these students are not aware that they are this close to graduation,” she said. “They are of course happy to find out that they are close to graduating, but sometimes they are unsure of what to do next. That’s when I send them to Rachelle.”

Rachelle Montero is TCC Northwest’s Transfer Center coordinator. She and her team at the Transfer Center have their own part to play in Don’t Wait, Graduate! In addition to the contacts students get from academic advisors, students who have indicated they intend to transfer also get contacted by the Transfer Center.

“We do our contacts a little bit later than Advising and Counseling, which is good because for the students on our list, it’s like a second reminder for them,” Montero said. She and her team assist students in filling out applications for universities as well as for scholarships. Institutions like the University of Texas at Arlington have transfer scholarships specifically for students who have completed their associate degree. The Transfer Center also helps students complete their paperwork to graduate, even meeting students remotely now that all TCC faculty and staff are working from home.

Last year, the Transfer Center held a graduation celebration where students could pick up their cap and gown along with a celebratory cupcake and a small gift from the Transfer Center and talk to representatives from different universities. Given the current situation due to COVID-19, an in-person event like this is not possible this year, but plans are in place to hold a virtual event. The event this year will have a Star Wars theme because it takes place on May 4. The May the 4th Be with You and Your Future will feature university representatives as well as study tips and tips for stress relief during final exams.

Montero sees the Don’t Wait, Graduate! Program as helping students to recognize that they are nearing a milestone in their education.

“Students really want to take part in our graduation,” she said. “For many of our students, they didn’t know they would make it this far when they started, so this milestone presents a sense of accomplishment for them and their families. This motivates them to keep going and to finish their education.”