MJC seeks to help students meet goals

Only one in four Modesto Junior College students who want a degree or certificate earn one, a ratio that school officials want to improve.

They're looking for ways to help more students graduate or transfer to four-year universities, but the solutions aren't easy while they navigate budget cuts that slice into opportunities to launch more programs.

MJC is cutting $12 million this year alone.

"I hate to blame it on not having enough money, because higher education gets a lot of money and we'll never have enough, but it's about where and how you use that money," said Bob Nadell, MJC vice president of student services.

He's working to streamline some support services that could help students get on their feet and accomplish their goals. One effort, a yearlong orientation program for new students, could roll out next year.

"Our goal is to make some small, incremental improvements," Nadell said.

Students often complain about a maze of services they need to access to succeed, such as enrollment, registration, financial aid and counseling.

Some students quit.

Others, particularly students who are the first in their families to attend college, aren't sure what to expect or how to find their way through the system.

Both are why the school wants to boost support staff and programs. For instance, each of MJC's academic counselors is assigned 1,400 students. Ideally, the ratio should be closer to 800-to-1, Nadell said.

Officials also want to put more resources into basic skills classes in English and math. Many community college students need heavy remediation in those areas, and most of those classes don't count toward certificates, degrees and transfer credits for universities.

Research and tracking of MJC students has been pretty sparse until now. By gathering more data, officials hope to better meet the needs of students.

For example, the new orientation program that's being developed will bring together existing services, such as StartSmart's placement testing and early registration. The goal is to provide students more access to advisers and counselors, and help students familiarize themselves with the school and college skills, such as taking notes and making use of instructors' office hours.

"We already have a lot of those pieces, but we want to link them all together, have a better structure," said Martha Robles, MJC director of student development and special projects. Officials hope to roll out the extra orientation in fall 2011.

Some of the most successful support programs are intrusive, meaning participating students must meet with advisers, get tutoring or occasionally review their grades with counselors.

Many students prefer the extra help, Nadell said. But most of MJC's students can't be required to see a counselor unless they're on academic probation.

"We'd like to be more proactive," Nadell said.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339.