Pueblo Voices | Patty Erjavec

Casting a wide net, PCC keeps focus personal

<a href='https://pueblostarjournal.org/author/erjavec/'>Patty Erjavec</a>
<a href='https://pueblostarjournal.org/author/erjavec/'>Patty Erjavec</a>
Pueblo native Patty Erjavec, Ph.D., has served as president of Pueblo Community College since 2010. The college operates campuses in Pueblo, Cañon City and Mancos with branch sites in Durango and Bayfield.
September 28, 2022

A recent meeting hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that nearly one million community college students were lost throughout the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is equivalent to losing a year’s worth of students nationwide.

As a result, Pueblo Community College is being challenged to think creatively to re-engage with former students and discover where to find new students. PCC’s attention, emphasis and energy are focused on individuals with some college but no credentials – the adult learner who left college because of an unanticipated life-altering event. Since presenting data in 2019, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports that the number of these students increased by 8.6%, to 39 million, in 2020. Our team at PCC is working to personally reach out to some 6,000 individuals in our service area alone who were enrolled at the institution at some point over the years.

Our Return to Earn program initially targeted prior students who successfully completed at least 30 credits and had an overall school debt of less than $500. Of the 532 students who have re-enrolled through that program, 92% passed their first semester back and 82% have successfully earned an associate degree.

PCC’s results reinforced the same findings published by the National Student Clearinghouse: Students who re-enroll are likely to complete their credential without stopping out again. With this initial success, PCC is now casting a wider net, but a personal touch remains the key.

The Return to Earn program was launched and sustained with the generous financial support of private foundations and individual donors. Its success caught the eye of the governor’s office and the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Now all institutions of higher education in Colorado – two- and four-year – are receiving financial resources through the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative. The program is called Finish What You Started and it was created to increase the attainment of postsecondary credentials and degrees for underserved students through accessibility and affordability.

The clearinghouse provides data that suggests “(some college, no credential) students are more likely to be women. They also overrepresent populations of color, particularly relative to their share of currently enrolled undergraduate students. Black, Latinx and Native Americans make up roughly 35% of all undergraduates but are about 44% of SCNC students.”

PCC recognizes that the needs of these adult students are not monolithic. Our student success team emphasizes the importance of getting to know students individually to understand the reasons they stopped out in the first place so we can keep it from happening again.

It does take extra work to provide the proper wraparound services and outreach to help students. Comprehensive advising and services that support academic endeavors and other aspects of a student’s needs are essential. We are proud of the holistic support PCC offers.

We are determined to remain the “secret sauce” of degree attainment for all – an incubator of innovation and opportunity. We remain committed to empowering our communities, strengthening our businesses and invigorating our local economies. Whether through our Return to Earn program, Career in a Year initiative or other programs, this longstanding community institution remains innovative and committed to the value of a higher education, and ultimate success, for all students.


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