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Removing Bottlenecks to Student Success

Six Faculty Teams Address the Challenge of High Demand-Low Success Rate Courses

Aug. 29, 2013

Group of faculty listening

Funding recipients, including mathematics professor and 2010-11 Outstanding Professor Award recipient Martin Bonsangue, listen as José L. Cruz, provost and vice president for academic affairs, speaks on the importance of their proposals.

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Counting, in part, on six proposals from Titan faculty members for the redesign and enhancement of 10 courses, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White hopes to meet the challenge posed by high demand and/or high failure-rate courses. Known as bottleneck courses, they slow student progress toward graduation systemwide.

The students who do poorly — either through failing or withdrawing — are slowing the progress of others working toward graduation.

Speaking at an early 2013 meeting of the CSU Trustees, White said about 30 courses across the system have been identified as having a high rate of failure (students receiving less than a C, the grade needed to pass) requiring students to repeat the class.

This spring, Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal included $10 million to reduce bottleneck courses through the use of innovative online technologies. In addition, White approved $7.2 million to promote student success programs that further the CSU Graduation Initiative.

All 23 CSU campuses were invited to submit proposals. CSUF faculty members submitted six proposals involving 10 courses — and received funding for all of them.

From the CSU, the CSUF teams received a total of $359,342 in one-time funding for course redesign. Supplemental Instruction proposals garnered $458,000 to the campus as baseline funding.

"We weren't allowed to submit any more," said Provost José L. Cruz, speaking before an Aug. 22 assembly of faculty teams who had submitted proposals.

"I think the reason we were so successful is that our faculty had already been working on solutions to these problems. The groundwork was laid, and our faculty is committed to working through these problems.

"Now is the time to review and look over how these courses may be redesigned to ensure more students have the opportunity to be successful," Cruz continued. "That said, rigor should not be sacrificed for improved course outcomes.

"The state is starting to focus on performance-based funding, rather than the number of students that campuses attract," said Cruz. "I think we're going to see more of this. For example, in the state of Tennessee, funding is based on graduation rates. And there are bonuses if you close the achievement gaps," he noted.

Beyond California's efforts, Cruz said that "the federal government is already putting forth proposals to do the same. The idea is that universities that do the best jobs will get more funding and more Pell grants. The focus will be increasing graduation rates, closing achievement gaps and keeping down tuition costs.

"The work you do over the coming year will have huge implications, not only for CSUF and other CSU campuses, but for campuses throughout the nation," he continued. "The goal is to look at how different courses or solutions are developed, and spread that knowledge across the system, state and, eventually, the nation. A lot is riding on the work you're embarking upon this year."

Funding for CSU course redesign and academic success was awarded to the following:

E-Advisement
Nancy Dority, assistant vice president, enrollment services

Supplemental Instruction
Susama Barua, associate dean, College of Engineering and Computer Science
Martin Bonsangue, professor of mathematics
Todd CadwalladerOlsker, associate professor of mathematics
Mark Filowitz, associate dean, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
Sheryl Fontaine, acting dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Philip Janowicz, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry
Morteza Rahmatian, associate dean of academic programs, Mihaylo College of Business and Economics
Raman Unnikirshnan, dean, College of Engineering and Computer Science
Sean Walker, associate professor of biological science and chair, Academic Senate
Rochelle Woods, director, student academic services

Math 115 Course Redesign
Mathematics faculty members — Todd CadwalladerOlsker, Cherie Ichinose and Margaret Kidd

Biology 101 Course Redesign
Biological science faculty — Megan Anduri, Kathryn Dickson, Cindy Duong, Krista Henderson and Maryanne Menvielle

Biology 171 Course Redesign
Faculty members Kathryn Dickson, Jennifer Burnaford, Merri Lynn Casem, Math Cuajungco, Bill Hoese, Alison Miyamoto, Nilay Patel, Melanie Sacco, Sean Walker and Danielle Zacherl

History lower-division course redesign
History faculty members — Gayle Brunelle, Kate Burlingham, Nancy Fitch, Volker Janssen, Jonathan Markley and Lynn Sargeant

Political Science 100 redesign
Political science faculty members — Pam Fiber, Scott Spitzer and Stephen Stambough

Chemistry 120B redesign
Chemistry and biochemistry faculty members — Michael Bridges, Paula Hudson, Scott Hewitt and Zhuangjie Li

E-Academy Leaders
Chemistry — Philip Janowicz, assistant professor of mathematics
Mathematics — Martin Bonsangue, professor of mathematics

E-Academy Participants
Reading (critical thinking) — Julian Jeffries, assistant professor of reading
Math (college algebra) — Mortaza Jamshidian, professor of mathematics
Physics faculty members — Greg Childers, James Feagin, Geoffrey Lovelace, Mike Loverude, Jocelyn Read and Joshua Smith

Tags:  Academics & Research