FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 29, 2021
College Wins National Bellwether Award
College of the Canyons has won a 2021 Bellwether Award for its innovative approach to assessment and course sequence redesign in English and mathematics, which paved the way for groundbreaking legislation that eliminated developmental courses in those subjects for students at all California community colleges unless they help them achieve their educational goals.
The college was one of three institutions to be recognized with the Bellwether Award, considered one of the nation’s most competitive and prestigious honors for community colleges, and its “Dismantling Barriers to Support Students: Placement Exams & Developmental Courses" submission was judged the best among 10 finalists in the Instructional Programs & Services category.
The award was announced at the 27th annual Community College Futures Assembly on Jan. 26.
“It is an amazing honor to win a Bellwether Award recognizing our relentless efforts to dismantle barriers for our students,” College of the Canyons Chancellor Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook said. “We are passionately committed to finding ways to reduce equity gaps for our students, which is important now more than ever as we have shifted toward remote learning.”
Over the past seven years, the college has restructured its procedures to reduce transfer-level completion in English and math by two semesters, significantly reducing racial-equity gaps.
“In developing the accelerated approach and these courses, our faculty put the needs of our students first,” Dr. Van Hook said. “Moreover, they modeled persistence by pushing forward in the face of questions and doubts about the need for and efficacy of these curriculum changes for colleges throughout our system. The results, however, speak for themselves.”
Before 2012, only 10 percent of new students enrolled in college-level math, and 16 percent in college-level English, with the remainder taking developmental courses. With students required to complete as many as three developmental classes before qualifying for college-level math and English, they took much longer to graduate.
Students placed into transfer-level courses rose from 16 percent to 75 percent in English (2012 to 2018) and 10.3 percent to 74 percent in mathematics (2011 to 2018), which allowed students to graduate faster and transfer to four-year universities or begin their careers.
The college also made substantial changes to its assessment process. Instead of relying on a standardized test to determine whether new students are ready to enroll in college-level math and English, the college now evaluates students’ high school courses and grades to help determine placement.
“We are extremely grateful to the Bellwether College Consortium and Community College Futures Assembly for acknowledging the tireless and equity-focused efforts of our English and math departments, our classified staff and administrative partners, in support of our students,” said Dr. Omar Torres, the college's assistant superintendent and vice president of instruction. “The entrepreneurial successes accomplished by our hard-working and dedicated COC colleagues will serve as a model for others across the nation and have a lasting impact on our future students.”
In November 2020, the college was one of 30 colleges to be selected as a Bellwether finalist from a large group of applicants in the United States and its territories. One winner was selected from each of the three categories in a two-round competitive process judged by a panel of national experts.
Besides recognizing Bellwether winners and finalists, the Assembly operates as an independent national policy forum for key higher education leaders to work as a “think tank” in identifying serious issues facing community colleges.
To address the critical issues facing community colleges, the Bellwether College Consortium utilizes applicable research and the promotion and replication of best practices addressing workforce development, instructional programs and services, and planning governance and finance.
The Bellwether Award is sponsored by the Alamo Colleges District in San Antonio, Texas.