COC wins National Bellwether Award for program excellence

Press release

College of the Canyons officials announced the college has won the 2021 Bellwether Award for its innovative approach to assessment and course sequence redesign in mathematics and English, which paved the way for legislation accelerated math placement for California community college students.

The college was one of three community colleges to win this prestigious honor by the Bellwether College Consortium at the virtual 27th annual Community College Futures Assembly on Jan. 26.

COC was chosen among 10 finalists in the Instructional Programs and Services category for its submission entitled Dismantling Barriers to Support Students: Placement Exams & Developmental Courses.

“It is an amazing honor to win a Bellwether Award recognizing our relentless efforts to dismantle barriers for our students,” said College of the Canyons Chancellor Dianne G. Van Hook. “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, COC has restructured its procedures to reduce transfer-level completion in English and Math by two semesters, which resulted in reducing racial equity gaps.

“In developing the accelerated approach and these courses, our faculty put the needs of our students first,” 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% of new students enrolled in college-level math, and 16% 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% to 75% in English between 2012 to 2018, and 10.3% to 74% in mathematics between 2011 to 2018. This 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, Assistant Superintendent/Vice President of Instruction at the college. “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.”

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.

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