SVCC HLC Self-Study Document

Sauk Valley Community College
HLC Self-Study Document

September 19-21, 2011

Criterion 3: Student Learning and Effective Teaching

The central place that student learning takes at Sauk Valley Community College is established by board policy in a statement that expands upon the Mission Statement's commitment to provide "quality learning opportunities" (link to digital resource room support). In it, the board commits the institution to "the importance of assessing the impact and outcomes of its educational programming.''

Photo of an instructor teaching a college classThe 2002 HLC Reaffirmation of Accreditation visit had brought to our attention that the college had not yet made the transition from the traditional teaching-focused perspective to the expected learning outcomes focus. Looking at what was undertaken in preparation for the 2006 Focused Visit, one long-time member of the faculty reflected that “Ultimately, the HLC team’s report inspired a transformation that has returned to the college much of the collaborative spirit in evidence during the early years.” She recalled that “the early days were marked by the kinds of creative and rewarding interactions that naturally transpire when building a new community.” Pinter, Karen. “A Reflection on Transformation.” SVCC Focused Visit Report to the Higher Learning Commission: Narrative Report, April 10-11, 2006.

Interaction underlies much of the content of this section of the self-study: interactions with and among students as they seek success in learning and reaching their goals; interaction among faculty as they seek to assess, understand, and improve student learning and their own teaching; interactions of support staff with students and faculty as they help foster learning. It is perhaps idealistic to suggest that the kinds of interactions in evidence are uniformly “creative and rewarding,” but there is no understatement in the idea that in the ten years since the HLC's comprehensive evaluation, the college culture has transformed in ways that have engaged the entire campus community in discussions about how to know how we’re doing and how to do it better, especially as it relates to our primary mission to bring about student learning.

Sauk Valley Community College asserts that it provides evidence of student learning and teaching effectiveness that demonstrates it is fulfilling its mission.

Responses to HLC Concerns

A more detailed response to the concerns and suggestions made by the 2002 Reaffirmation of Accreditation Visit Team and the 2006 Focused Visit Team is provided in an earlier section. Here, however, is a brief response to the topics that relate most directly to this criterion:


The HLC consultant-evaluators found that the varying concerns about assessment and faculty involvement in student learning outcomes warranted a Focused Visit. The 2006 Focused Visit Report describes the transformation process in detail. The continued growth and improvement of the system since that report is described below in Core Component 3A. Here are their major concerns:

  • The college should ensure that faculty are fully understanding of their role in the ownership and direction of the curriculum, as well as provide for clarity in a student’s progression through coursework to a degree: See Core Component 3B.1 for evaluation of faculty ownership of curriculum. Area Facilitator involvement, the assessment system, prompts in program review, and the process by which outlines and programs are created, revised or deleted all testify to a curriculum that is firmly under the control of Sauk faculty.
  • There exists no clearly defined philosophy statement regarding general education requirements as agreed upon by the faculty: The Faculty created the desired statement, which is published in the catalog and which provides a foundation for assessment of the general education outcomes.
  • [There exists] no identification and articulation of expected competencies to be attained by students within each area: A set of outcome-based assessment goals and objectives was developed by the faculty for each general education competency, each discipline, and each career program. A recent revision to the system has refocused the discipline-level outcomes to the General Education Core Competency area level.
  • [There exists] no method of assessment and measurement of those areas of importance, generally no stated career program outcomes: Faculty work together to determine tools appropriate to assess the outcomes they have developed, collect and evaluate data, and take action appropriate to their findings. The process is documented in one of two digital systems for reference from year to year and when needed during annual planning.
  • [There exists] no current process for including the results in instructional improvement and the annual budgeting of the institution: Assessment results flow into the planning cycle and to the budget through the Operational Plans, with both systems coordinated for faculty by Area Facilitators.
  • Faculty generally does not demonstrate a shared understanding of the potential or goals of academic assessment and they demonstrate only minimal buy-in to the overall program: Led by the Assessment Core Team, consisting primarily of faculty, and given regular opportunity to meet and discuss, the faculty have created a culture of assessment distinctive to this institution and have indicated in repeated surveys that they value assessment and use the findings to benefit their own classrooms and the institution.

2006 Focused Visit Concerns

The Focused Visit Team was generally complimentary of the transformation they found, but suggested one major area where the college could improve:

  • The faculty has not yet come to full consensus on a common rubric for assessing the achievement of the [gen ed] competencies taught at the college: Several steps have been taken to move in the direction of consensus in ways that are appropriate to a system that thrives on discussion. One significant development is the creation by career program faculty of a common set of program outcomes that they are assessing for the first time. Another is the pattern of General Education Core Curriculum (GECC) area projects being undertaken annually by the transfer areas. Both of these developments will influence further improvements in competency assessment.

3A: Learning Outcomes Clearly Stated

Sauk Valley Community College's goals for student learning outcomes are clearly stated for each educational program and make effective assessment possible.

3A.1: Faculty-Driven System

Assessment of academic achievement at Sauk is a faculty-driven system for which all of the student learning outcomes, including course outcomes, area and program outcomes, and general education competencies have been developed and are regularly reviewed by faculty. In addition, with oversight and approval by administration, the design and maintenance of the system is entirely the responsibility of two groups of faculty:

  • Faculty Area Facilitators: For assessment purposes, the college faculty is divided into eight areas of related courses. Five of these contain the General Education Core Competency Areas (Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, Humanities/Fine Arts, Communication, and Mathematics) and the remaining are Career Program groupings (Health Careers, Technology, and Business). Each of these areas is led by an Area Facilitator, a compensated faculty member who is responsible for calling meetings, moderating discussions, and providing leadership in assessment efforts. In 2008, the role of the Area Facilitators was expanded to include operational planning and program review for their respective areas. In addition, each Area Facilitator is a member of either the Organizational Planning and Improvement Committee (OPIC) or the Assessment Committee, providing faculty input on those important oversight committees.
  • Faculty Core Team: The primary driver of the academic assessment system is the Core Team, a subcommittee of the Assessment Committee (link to an appendixAppendix). The Core Team consists of four faculty Area Facilitators, two or more additional faculty members, and a representative from Instructional Technology. As of 2009, the Director of Academic Development has been added in order to coordinate a developmental education assessment component of the system. The Vice President of Academic Services is an ex officio member of the Core Team, serving primarily as liaison to the President’s Cabinet. The Core Team's primary function is to oversee the assessment system, which is articulated in a formal Assessment Plan (link to an appendixAppendix). In addition to providing leadership, planning, and system evaluation, the Core Team coordinates assessment-related discussions, activities, and projects.

3A.2: Clear Goals and Outcomes

According to the Sauk Valley Community College Assessment Plan (2010), the college’s assessment system “exists to measure the degree which our instructional practices work in support of the organizing principles of the college, including the Mission, Vision, and Shared Values.” To carry out this directive, the assessment system articulates four institution-level assessment goals. These over-arching goals were developed by the faculty to guide the development of the 2003 Assessment Plan and have remained the organizing principle of the system:

  • Goal 1: Transfer - Students will demonstrate skills and knowledge necessary to complete further work in their chosen field.

    The 2003 assessment plan divided the transfer goal into Disciplines (any A.S. degree offered in the catalog) and Areas (the General Education Core Curriculum areas described in the catalog). In this design, faculty in each discipline established a set of outcomes and collected, analyzed, and acted upon the data collected through classroom assessment. Areas would then, according to the plan, aggregate the data from across the appropriate disciplines to analyze and act upon in relation to specific outcomes established at the area level. A 2009 Gap Analysis showed that the system was too complex to be maintained: a small, multi-disciplinary faculty was overburdened and the single-person-discipline instructors found little value in assessment in isolation. As a result, the 100% participation of full-time faculty in collecting discipline-level data that marked the first two years of the system had eroded. As can be seen in Figure 3i, significant holes had developed in the discipline data: Of the 35 disciplines, 83% had no documentation of new data in FY09.

    The same analysis found, however, that where a group of faculty was working together on a project, whether a multi-faculty discipline or an area, the data was more rigorously collected, discussed, and acted upon. In fact, in FY10, area projects had been conducted in 100% of the transfer areas. As a result, in 2010, the system was revised so that instead of assessing each discipline, the focus of assessment efforts shifted to area-level projects. This adjustment is appropriate to a community college, where transfer degrees are focused on providing the GECC and a sampling of discipline-level work.

  • Goal 2: General Education - Students will develop habits of mind consistent with our six chosen general education competencies.

    The General Education Competencies (Ethics, Mathematics and Quantitative Reasoning, Problem Solving, Communications, Technology, and Research) were developed by the faculty for the 2003 Assessment Plan. These outcomes speak directly to the responsibility of the college, as well as to its obligation to assist students in developing the habits of mind that society values in the formation of citizens in a democracy (Link to another section of the Self-Study 4B.1). The competencies are referred to in assessment documentation as a “golden thread” woven through the strands of coursework. As a result of this conception, the data for assessing the competencies is drawn from college-level classrooms across the curriculum and generally not from a specific course where direct instruction is provided. So, for example, assessment events for research are carried out in classes which have research project requirements, such as literature, nursing, or biology, rather than from Composition II (ENG 103) where research writing is taught. This approach arises from the faculty’s desire to assess how students are acquiring and carrying out the competencies across education experiences in order to confirm retention of the competency and to inform direct instruction.

    Instructors are asked to choose two competencies they value and annually to collect and report data for these from appropriate college-level courses. The data is aggregated over a three-year period and discussed during the year that the competency comes up on the cycle. The faculty uses the data as a catalyst for discussions, both cross-curricular and within their areas, conforming to the timeline that coordinates these discussions into the planning and budget cycles. By design, the results of this analysis and discussion make their way either into Operational Plans or back to the full faculty for action. Several examples demonstrate that over time, this process is consistently providing opportunities for improvement:

    • During the first round of gen ed assessment, review of mathematics data led to discussions between the nursing and mathematics faculty. The resulting actions included a change in the way nursing instructors embed math in their courses and an overhaul of the outline of MAT 106, the required math course taken by math students.
    • As a result of the review of research data in 2007, the Communications area placed on its Operational Plan the task of creating a guide to research for use by the entire faculty.
    • In 2010, the discussion of ethics data resulted in a consensus among the faculty that the “college should develop a plagiarism/cheating statement which is consistent and should be included on every syllabus.” The commitment to accomplish this task appears on FY11 Operational Plans, and a taskforce convened in spring 2011 to begin the process.

    Cyclical assessment of the competencies also enabled the development of institution-wide projects. Selected and administered by the Core Team, the institution-wide assessments show promise to become a valuable instrument of institutional improvement. Three such projects have been undertaken:

    • FY09 – A reading assessment project was undertaken by a volunteer group of about a dozen faculty members. Classes were given a pre-test, received weekly direct instruction in reading strategies, and then were administered a post-test at the end of the semester.
    • FY10 – The Instructional Technology Staff and Core Team developed an online assessment of student technology skills. Faculty volunteered to administer a test of technology skill during the first week of the fall 2009 semester. The goal was to assess whether incoming students could do a series of basic tasks related to file management and word processing. The Developmental Taskforce repeated the assessment the next semester to confirm a finding that the developmental population was especially at risk.
    • FY11 - The LRC Staff, Instructional Technology Staff, and Communications faculty developed a research assessment that could be given using clicker technology or online. A pre-test was given to all students who took the library tour during the fall semester. A post-test was given as part of the spring semester final exam in all sections of the research writing course, Composition II (ENG 103).
  • Goal 3: Career - Students will demonstrate skills necessary to obtain and advance in employment in their chosen field.

    As with transfer degrees, the A.A.S. degree faculty created specific outcomes for each individual program in the design of the 2003 assessment system. They did not create area-level assessments because no compelling need appeared at that time for aggregating data across programs. Nursing, as a multi-faculty program with a highly developed assessment process that predates the development of the college-wide system, was able to benefit from the program-level discussions; however, the technology programs and some of the business programs, each with a single-person faculty, struggled with program assessment in the same way that single-person transfer disciplines did. To provide a remedy, the career degrees have added appropriate cross-curricular aggregation in order to benefit from the discussions and institution-level influence that area-level assessment has demonstrated are valuable. The program faculty met at the fall 2010 in-service to create a combined objective sheet that establishes outcomes based on the needs of employers. As the self-study is in process, the system has not yet collected data, but the end product will provide common outcomes will be collected and aggregated. For example, all of the career programs share the outcome that students will exhibit professional habits and behaviors in the workplace. Based on internship experiences, clinical settings, or capstone courses, instructors or supervisors will assess dependability, social appropriateness, cooperation and initiative. These shared concerns for employment readiness can be discussed profitably by the diverse programs and acted upon to the benefit of student learning and institutional improvement. The career programs will continue to assess various external data for their individual programs and have the option to retain program-specific skill assessments as the redesign matures.

  • Goal 4: Developmental - Students will demonstrate skills and understanding of concepts necessary to succeed in college-level studies.

    As an open-enrollment college, preparing the underprepared student to succeed is vitally important to carrying out Sauk's Mission. The assessment system outcomes for developmental students, defined as those enrolled in any developmental-level reading, composition, or math course, were established for the 2003 assessment plan by developmental faculty. The outcomes address both academic skills—specifically passage of exit testing that demonstrates college-level readiness—and other success skills.

    Mathematics has a highly developed assessment tool for its testing, and the full-time faculty regularly discuss and act on the data collected, as attested to by documents on file in the assessment folder. However, at the time of the self-study, no reading or English exit testing data has been filed in the folder, even though evidence exists that the data has been regularly collected. Developmental Taskforce minutes, area operational planning, and a recent program review all reveal that the assessment data is being effectively applied, especially to oversight and revision of placement cutoff scores and to changes in the exit testing that have taken place in the two previous years. In 2009, the Core Team acted to repair this gap by inviting the Director of Academic Development to become an active member of the Core Team.

3A.3: Clearly Differentiated Learning Goals

The Sauk assessment system is based on a hierarchy of student learning outcome statements, starting at the course level and occurring in various forms up through the programs, all in support of the Strategic Directions. All levels of assessment derive from faculty initiative and are regularly reviewed:

  • Course level: Each course is described in a faculty-developed course outline, which is approved by the Curriculum Committee and stored on the website. These outlines, conforming to a college-standard template, include specific statements of the outcomes to be achieved in the course and the tools by which these outcomes may be measured. Both the administrator who signs the curriculum proposal and the Curriculum Committee are charged with assuring the presence of acceptable outcomes-based design. Course outcomes and appropriate assessments are in evidence in every course outline. Individual faculty use the outlines to establish the content and assessment tools for the course, in keeping with their personal teaching styles, and communicate the outcomes and assessments to students in a syllabus, for which there is also a college-standard template. Outlines are reviewed at least every five years to ensure that outcomes remain current.
  • Program/discipline level: Faculty teaching within a particular discipline (transfer degree) or program (career degree) developed a set of outcomes for each degree when the 2003 Assessment Plan was designed. These outcomes represent those skills and habits of mind that the faculty believes a degree-holder should have. As described above, this portion of the system is in the process of redesign, and by spring 2012, a portion of the program and discipline objectives will remain, with others aggregating at the GECC area level in order to improve the efficacy of the assessment data in improving instruction, curriculum, and the institution’s academic offerings. Area and program objectives, established by the faculty, are regularly reviewed, as required by the Assessment Plan. Area Facilitators are charged with moderating faculty planning for assessment of at least one of these outcomes each year. In addition, the Program Review form includes a specific question about whether each objective has been assessed some time in the five-year period under consideration. This question serves as a prompt for the outcomes to be updated as needed.
  • Area level: In the 2003 conception of assessment, the Area Level was designed to create outcomes for the General Education Core Curriculum areas required for a degree. These outcomes make statements about the skills and habits of mind that any holder of an Associate’s degree is expected to have mastered in acquiring the breadth of thought that higher education values. Programs were also grouped by Area, but only to manage the system under the Area Facilitators. In the 2010 revision of the Assessment Plan, the Area Level outcomes for the GECC have been reviewed and have generally subsumed discipline-level outcomes. In addition, the Program Areas have created common outcomes based on employment skills and habits of mind (described above). This change to the system has not eliminated the program and discipline outcomes, but rather broadened them to improve engagement and efficacy. Certain disciplines where a specific sequence of knowledge is required, such as education and music, may need to continue to assess discipline-level outcomes, as will some distinct programs, like nursing and criminal justice.
  • Institution level: As described above, the Assessment Plan establishes the four over-arching goals which all of the other outcomes serve to measure. In addition, the General Education Competencies are maintained and assessed by the faculty at an institution level to provide an internal, formative assessment and engender institutional improvement. As an external, summative assessment of selected competencies, the CAAP test, to be administered every three years, provides data.

3A.4: Multiple Measures

Assessment at Sauk is an integrated system that combines data from the classroom and from various other sources to enable regular discussion of student learning in a variety of settings. The type of measure is selected for its appropriateness to the nature of the assessment, but an examination of campus practices shows that a combination of internal and external measures exist, that indirect and direct assessment each have their place, and that some assessments are formative and others are summative. A sampling of practices displays the array:

  • Classroom measures for college-level classes and for general education competencies are based on student performance of outcomes. Each submission of data must include a description of the assignment on which the results are based. At the course level, the course outlines provide clear guidance as to whether an instructor may choose the assessment or comply with a course-specific tool. At the program and area level, the faculty groups determine where the data for a project will come from. For example, College Algebra (MAT 121) uses a common final exam from which data is collected, aggregated and analyzed. The Communications Area projects generally direct faculty to select from any appropriate writing assignment or speech and assess it against a common rubric.
  • Besides the regular collection of classroom data, internal data about student learning is gleaned from the general education projects conducted by the Core Team each year. These projects seek to answer questions about student learning at an institutional level.
  • External data is valued as confirmation of student learning. Programs apply appropriate licensure feedback, and transfer areas are able to make use of grade reports from some of the universities to which students most commonly transfer. These data are reported on Operational Plans or during program review, where they may be applied to decision-making about budgetary and curricular change. Area faculty have selected from an array of data to focus on the most highly valued sources. So, for example, Business values transfer grades earned at 4-year universities; Nursing's NCLEX scores are reported on the Operational Plans; and Technology area has requested additional questions on the regular employment survey to meet its needs.
  • Formative assessment begins with initial placement testing designed to ensure that students begin the learning process at an appropriate level and continues through various course-specific tools, which are described on each syllabus as they relate to outcomes established in course outlines. Most of the area and program assessment efforts of the faculty are formative in nature.
  • Summative data comes from a variety of sources. Administration of the CAAP test to a sampling of prospective graduates every three years or so provides information that allows the college to compare to peer institutions, as well as state and national benchmarks. Health careers receive detailed licensing examination results that they can use for program improvement. Program data aggregated from internships and “capstone” courses provides summative data for career programs.
  • Although not regulated by the Assessment Plan, the degree to which data-influenced decision-making is embedded in Sauk's culture is revealed in the degree to which the various support units of the college depend on data to assess the effectiveness of their programs. For example, the Operational Plan Templates require that action items report “results that are sought” as a way to benchmark project success (link to an appendixAppendix). When the project is complete, another column reports “results obtained.” This combination sets up a similar sequence of reporting data, discussing results, and taking appropriate actions that characterizes the academic assessment process.

By using a wide variety of data from varying sources, the faculty is able to benefit from the multi-dimensional view of student learning to improve instruction, curriculum, and the institution.

3A.5 Dissemination of Assessment Results

In keeping with learning organization principles, Sauk has a strong commitment to shared governance as well as data-influenced decision making, which has resulted in a culture of assessment that thrives on discussion of assessment findings. In addition, the linkage of the assessment system into the strategic planning system allows the discussion of classroom data to flow seamlessly into academic operational planning and thereby serve as an agent of institutional improvement. However, the system has other constituencies besides faculty, and the self-study finds that the results of assessment are somewhat less available than they should be to these important stakeholders:

  • Board: Although the Board of Trustees is kept apprised of and plays an important role in strategic planning and in evaluating the associated data, the Assessment Plan does not indicate any process by which assessment results are directed to the attention of the Board. Certain external data (such as reports of university GPAs) are reported as news items.
  • Students: The importance of communicating the process of the assessment system and its value to student learning is described in the Assessment Plan. Indirectly, students are exposed to the system through the outcome-based design of course syllabi and by participation in classroom assessments. Directly, however, students are introduced to the assessment process and the system through two communication methods:
    • Syllabus statement: Every syllabus must include the following statement informing students of the college’s assessment program and their own involvement:
      Sauk Valley Community College is an institution dedicated to continuous instructional improvement. As part of our assessment efforts, it is necessary for us to collect and analyze course-level data. Data drawn from students’ work for the purposes of institutional assessment will be collected and posted in aggregate, and will not identify individual students. Your continued support in our on-going effort to provide quality instructional services at Sauk is appreciated.
    The statement is included as part of both the online and print syllabus templates. A survey of online syllabi showed all full-time faculty were in compliance with the requirement to include the statement (except for one first-year instructor who also omitted other required statements). A sampling of ten adjunct syllabi showed that all ten included the required statement.
    • Assessment brochure: Students enrolled in Orientation (PSY 100) are provided a pamphlet that describes assessment and helps them connect to their role in it and the benefits they derive from it. The three-fold pamphlet, designed in association with the 2003 Assessment Plan, describes the goals of the system and how students benefit from that system, with a special emphasis on the importance of the General Education Competencies. Even though the course is closely monitored by Counseling Office staff for consistency, the course outline contains no direct reference to assessment or the pamphlet. Also, in the process of the self-study, the Core Team realized that the pamphlet had been allowed to become outdated, so it is being revised for fall 2011. In addition, an assessment system review checklist now prompts the Team to review the pamphlet so that it can be kept current.
  • Public: The FY10 Recommendations for Change section of the Assessment Annual Report calls for improvements in public reporting. The notion that the community stakeholders are interested in or expect student learning results has received little or no attention in either the design of the 2003 system or in the 2010 revised plan. The Core Team became aware of the design flaw in spring 2010 and has recommended creation of a webpage for annual assessment results. At the time the self-study is concluding, no such action has been taken. The college has regularly submitted news releases to the local press about certain external data (for example, university GPA comparisons and CAAP results), but has yet to do any systematic reporting of assessment projects or results.

3A.6: Regular Review of Assessment System

The Assessment System designed in 2003 was predicated on the concept that the system for assessing student learning would be best served by an "organic" approach that assumed regular change would occur. As a result, the process has continued to be iterative and participatory. As described in the Assessment Plan, each academic year involves several levels of review of the system itself:

  • At the area/program level, each area faculty group discusses prior year data in the fall of the following year, moderated by an Area Facilitator. At that event, the participating faculty have the opportunity to make appropriate changes to program or area outcomes, rubrics, or assessment tools.
  • At the institutional level, the faculty discusses data and conducts projects on two general education competencies a year. In a series of discussion events, the faculty has the opportunity to recommend changes to the competencies themselves. In fall 2008, for example, a recommendation came from area-level discussions to eliminate ethical reasoning as a competency. The issue was brought to a meeting of the faculty; both sides of the argument were presented and discussed. The resulting vote confirmed the competency. The same process resulted in the faculty revising the research competency objectives in a way that clarified its goals for student outcomes.
  • At the system level, the Assessment Plan and the charge of the Assessment Committee call for the Faculty Core Team to conduct an annual evaluation each spring of Sauk's assessment system (link to an appendixAppendix). The Core Team, based on evaluation of system data, creates an annual report, including recommendations for change (if any) and a plan of action for the next academic year. The report is subsequently considered at the spring meeting of the full Assessment Committee, which consists of the Core Team, the Academic Vice President, the Dean of Institutional Research and Planning, and all of the Academic Deans. The annual evaluation ensures systematic oversight of the assessment system and has resulted in several major alterations in the system:
    • The 2005 and 2006 reports were directed to the Organizational Planning and Improvement Committee (OPIC). By 2006, a shift in the OPIC charge and revisions to the new Operational Plan Template led to a recommendation that this submission to OPIC was no longer necessary; and subsequent reports have been acted upon by the Assessment Committee.
    • In 2008, the Core Team, believing that the major work of design was complete, subsumed a separate General Education subcommittee and began more direct oversight of the competencies. It indicated that it would “refocus its creative energies from design to the improvement of teaching and learning through application of the assessment data,” primarily by recommending and facilitating professional development related to the Gen Ed competencies.
    • In spring 2009, the Core Team called for a Gap Analysis of the system. This report was considered at a special meeting of the Assessment Committee in the fall and resulted in a major revision of the 2005 system, which is being implemented as the self-study occurs.
  • At the administrative level, all of the academic administrators are members of the Assessment Committee and have an important role in discussing, revising, and approving the annual reports of the Core Team. In addition, as part of the 2009 Gap Analysis, key administrators were invited to assess the system against the HLC Matrix of Implementation, the results of which are reported in Figure 3ii below. A periodic repetition of this evaluation has been added to the Core Team’s annual review checklist to strengthen the administrative role in reviewing the assessment process, particularly those aspects, like Board support, that are beyond the purview of the faculty.
    Figure 3ii: Administrative Evaluation of Assessment System
    2010 Administrative Evaluation of the SVCC Assessment System against the HLC Levels of Implementation
    Source:2010 Assessment Annual Report

3B: Values and Supports Effective Teaching

Sauk Valley Community College values and supports effective teaching.

At the last reaffirmation visit, Sauk’s focus was on effective teaching, so much so that student learning had not taken the central place of concern that it required. Over the last ten years, the changes to the assessment and planning processes have done much to recognize effective teaching as the means by which student learning may be achieved. That said, effective teaching is a valued and supported component of the college Mission, founded in the Board’s commitment “that the quality of the . . . instructional faculty is central to the quality of the educational experience of the students” and that it “therefore, seeks to employ and retain persons with the highest professional qualifications and continuously demonstrated ability.”

3B.1: Qualified Faculty Controls Instruction

Sauk’s range of academic and career degrees and certificates results in a wide range of qualifications for faculty in those specific areas. These qualifications are contained in each job description and are clearly described in every job posting and advertisement.

All of Sauk’s faculty are qualified for the positions they hold. Full-time and adjunct faculty who teach transfer courses are required to have at least a Master's degree in the content areas they teach. Faculty who teach dual credit classes in local high schools or the career center are held to the same credential requirements as full-time college faculty and must also have appropriate Illinois high school certification. The educational credential requirements for career faculty vary by discipline. The Human Resources Office verifies that individuals hold appropriate educational credentials at the time of hire. 

The faculty controls the curriculum within policy guidelines and regulations established by the institution and various regulatory agencies:

  • Curriculum Committee: At the institutional level, faculty control of curriculum is embodied in the committee that is charged with approving all credit programs and courses, all prerequisite changes, and all institutional policy changes related to curriculum (link to an appendixAppendix). The Curriculum Committee is chaired by a faculty member and consists of six faculty representatives, counselor, a student, and the instructional deans. Other college offices are represented on the committee in ex officio resource capacities. The minutes of the Curriculum Committee provide evidence of the role of the faculty in the addition, deletion, and proposed changes of courses and programs at Sauk.
  • New courses and programs: Any full-time or adjunct faculty member may initiate a new course. The course outline and a sample syllabus must be created and submitted to the appropriate Dean or the Academic Vice President for preliminary approval. During this step in the process, IAI issues and compliance with outcome-based outline design are assured. Once approved, the faculty member submits the proposal to the Curriculum Committee using the Curriculum and Policy Action Form. The faculty member is invited to explain, clarify, or defend the proposal at the Curriculum Committee meeting where the proposal is given first reading and discussed. At a following meeting, the committee votes whether to approve the new course, with a simple majority deciding the outcome. The same general procedure is followed for the addition of new programs, as well as for the deletion of courses or programs.
  • Course outlines: Course content is regulated by a Course Outline that uses a standard template to establish the critical components of the course. The outline assures that anyone teaching a section of a given course will have access to the same learning outcomes requirements to use in developing a syllabus. It specifies which parts of the course will be uniform in every section and which will allow for teacher preference. Specific teaching strategies are typically determined by each individual instructor, so many assessments are listed as a set of alternatives. For example, some developmental-level math courses have standardized texts, chapter tests, and end-of-course assessment tools. In contrast, the college-level English composition outlines standardize the outcomes, but provide broad latitude for diverse use of texts and assessment tools. Each of these decisions made by faculty is approved by the Curriculum Committee when the outline is approved.
  • Syllabi: Each semester, each faculty member is required to create and supply to students a syllabus that describes the requirements for the course; indicates how the course outcomes will be assessed; and provides information, including grading practice, attendance policies, schedule of activities, etc. A standard template is provided for the syllabus, and all of the syllabi are submitted to and kept on file by the Academic Vice President each semester.

During FY06, the Assessment Core Team spearheaded a project for faculty to revise course outlines, many of which had not been revised since 1997, when they had first been restated in outcomes-based language. When the program review process was revised most recently, a specific prompt was added to make sure that faculty review all of the area’s course outlines, to ensure that this important review is systematically conducted.

3B.2: Professional Development Improves Teaching and Learning

Sauk encourages and supports faculty development in several ways that allow individual faculty members to improve their knowledge and expertise in their own disciplines, expand their range of teaching methods, improve their assessment tools, and increase their flexibility in teaching and learning styles:

  • Faculty Development Committee: Faculty may submit requests for professional development funds for conferences, seminars, and workshops to the Faculty Development Committee. Each approved participant in professional development is required to file an activity report summarizing what was learned. According to the fall 2009 survey, 70% of faculty have attended conferences or workshops related to their profession every year or nearly every year.
  • Budget support: Sauk provides a faculty development budget of $20,000 annually (approximately $465 per full time faculty member). In the five years beginning summer 2007 to summer 2011, an average of 40% of the travel budget was used each year (Link to another section of the Self-Study 4A.2).
  • Promotion incentives: The college encourages professional development by providing faculty with contractually-agreed-upon promotion credit for attending non-credit seminars, symposiums, and workshops at the ratio of one credit for each fifteen hours of actual contact experience. This is in addition to the promotional incentive provided for taking graduate-level courses), which makes graduate-level hours one of the primary components of promotional eligibility (Link to another section of the Self-Study2B.8).
  • Assessment-related projects: The Assessment Core Team annually recommends professional development topics related to teaching and learning as it relates to the general education competency cycle. Money for an outside presenter is not readily available, so the Team uses in-house presenters to the extent possible. For example, in 2006, the Core Team sponsored a voluntary brown-bag session on student listening skills; in 2007, they recruited a retired colleague to provide a presentation on reading in the classroom to kick off a reading assessment project. In January 2009, the college provided funds for an e-workshop on “Teaching the Millennial Student,” and in 2010 the Instructional Technology staff presented a workshop on how students use technology to cheat and plagiarize.

3B.3: Evaluating and Recognizing Teaching

A yearly evaluation process for full-time and adjunct faculty provides feedback and encouragement for improvements in teaching:

  • Adjunct faculty evaluation (including off-site dual credit faculty): Teachers are observed in the classroom by the Dean of Instructional Services. Following the classroom observation, the Dean writes a classroom observation narrative which is shared with the faculty member and also added to the personnel file.
  • Full-time faculty evaluation procedures: The supervising administrator is charged with collecting information about each faculty member each year, according to contract provisions. The process involves a written self-evaluation followed by an evaluation interview with the appropriate Dean or Vice President, which results in a written evaluation and recommendation to the President. Among the factors considered are several directly pertaining to the quality of teaching:
    • Classroom teaching (Formal classroom observation every third year or when circumstances require one)
    • Professional growth (self-reported by the faculty)
    • Academic growth (self-reported by the faculty)
    • Service to students (self-reported by the faculty)
    • Adherence to the faculty job description.

Given that the evaluation system works to ensure the competency of the entire faculty, Sauk's primary mode of supporting and rewarding excellence is its faculty promotion process. Guidelines specify that “the acquisition of credits and necessary experience is only one criterion to determine eligibility for promotion”; included as a consideration in every faculty promotion is also the annual evaluation described above, including specifically “demonstrated teaching capability.”

3B.4: Support for Faculty Use of Technology

Sauk maintains an Instructional Technology Office  (IT) that is charged with the combined task of keeping abreast of technological advances and curriculum design principles that can enhance teaching and learning and of delivering that information to the faculty. To that end, the Director of Instructional Technology makes information about teaching and learning available in various formats:

  • Website: The IT webpage carries links to a variety of information sources, including online tutorials, many of which have been developed in-house; archived training sessions; and links to current research on topics related to teaching and learning.
  • Face-to-face training: IT surveys faculty on their training needs and offers a regular schedule of workshops, which include the use of applications, course design, use of multimedia to enhance learning, open educational resources, the Internet, and software tools for the classroom. Each semester IT distributes a training schedule booklet that lists and describes the face-to-face scheduled sessions for the semester. Faculty may attend as many of these free sessions as they wish. Many of these sessions can also be attended via webinars, which are then stored for future use.
  • Instructional Technology Center (ITC): The ITC is a specially equipped computer lab space for faculty to visit for consultation with instructional designers, to attend a training session, to receive one-on-one instruction, to get help with course management system features, to use specialized software, or to have a quiet place to work on course design with assistance near at hand.
  • Innovative Internet Instruction (i3): IT offers a free eight-week online workshop called i3 (Innovative Internet Instruction). The course presents online teaching strategies for hybrid, web-enhanced, and fully online classes through hands-on experience in course design and delivery. The i3 Workshop is required of any faculty new to teaching online and is open to all faculty who are interested in online teaching or in enhancing their live courses with online support. Faculty earn two promotional hours for completing i3. Since its beginning in 2005, 21 full-time faculty, 25 adjunct faculty, one staff, and one community member have completed the i3 Workshop.
  • Technology show and tell: Periodically, IT will hold a tech show and tell where faculty who have attended a conference can share any technology that they have learned about. Various web tools have been presented such as use of Second Life for office hours, cell phone polling, Google Docs, etc.
  • Classroom Technology Showcase: An annual showcase is held during the spring faculty workshop day. The Showcase is held in the East Mall where IT and Informational Services staff and various faculty present different technologies that are currently being used in classrooms and around the campus. The technology showcase, which began in 2003, had almost a dozen faculty demonstrate classroom technologies at the 2010 showcase. The technology showcase provides an opportunity for faculty to network with faculty from other disciplines and to learn about new classroom technologies. In fall 2009, an adjunct version was added just prior to their evening orientation session.

As a result of the efforts of the IT staff, the faculty is well-equipped to enhance learning by incorporating solid course design principles and the latest in classroom technologies. According to the fall 2010 survey, 100% of faculty respondents indicated that they use the features that are available in technology-enhanced classrooms. Here are examples of several faculty who are using some of the latest technologies in their classrooms:

  • A criminal justice professor uses to conduct in-class cell phone surveys on controversial topics.
  • A physics professor uses clicker technology to assess physics students’ retention of class presentations.
  • A history professor has transferred teaching notes, texts, and resource materials to a tablet computer.

3B.5: Learning Technology Is Budget Priority

The Institutional Technology Committee provides leadership and recommendations for technology that will facilitate the Mission of the college and has spurred the purchase of $100,000-$125,000 in new technology annually. The Dean of Information Services, with input from faculty and Information Services/Instructional Technology Department (IS/IT) staff recommends technology budget allocations. Below are some examples of technology purchased, besides the extensive classroom support described in 3D.3:

  • wireless connection to the Internet available throughout the college
  • all full-time faculty receive a new computer every four years and most full-time employees have their own computer
  • 20 or more laptop or tablet computers are available for use by any employee
  • adjunct faculty may use laptop or tablet computers from a supply made available to them

As the financial environment has become less secure, more pressure has been put on using the funding bonds to meet other needs. IS/IT continues to look for grant funding as opportunities and time permit. The 2009 Program Review for the Technology area made clear the importance of its funding and expressed the concern that “should the funding bonds cease to be issued or be diverted to other areas of the institution, [this] would place the unit in jeopardy.”

3C: Creates Effective Learning Environments

Sauk Valley Community College creates effective learning environments.

3C.1: Learning Environments Expand

In support of the Mission, the FY11 Strategic Plan addresses one of the barriers that faces the diverse population in Sauk’s rural setting: “Expand the number of courses and programs that can be completed through alternative delivery methods, to expand student access” (Objective 1.3). Sauk provides a range of services and options that help increase opportunities for students to participate in education:

Diverse Learning Environments

The college offers multiple learning environments for students by offering courses in a variety of different modalities:

  • Non-traditional schedules: From its beginnings, Sauk has had a regular schedule of night classes. However, several other forms of non-traditional scheduling have been implemented in response to student needs:
    • Saturday classes: Starting in FY03, the types of courses offered on Saturday mornings were expanded in an attempt to offer a weekend alternative. Saturday classes were discontinued after FY08 because other campus resources, like the Learning Resource Center, were not open on weekends. A 2007 scheduling survey confirmed that students preferred other alternate scheduling options.
    • Friday classes: As a result of the 2007 scheduling survey and the college’s shift to Monday-Thursday class schedules, some classes are scheduled as Friday-only. This plan has the benefits of one-day-a-week scheduling, with all campus support offices open and available for the students.
    • Eight-week courses: Selected courses are offered in a condensed eight-week format. Currently such courses are scheduled during the final weeks of the 16-week semester, allowing for late entry by students who were unable to begin the regular semester and alternative hours for students who withdrew from a course.
  • Dual credit - Sauk has participated in the state-regulated dual credit program since 1998, allowing high school students to earn high school and college credit simultaneously. Classes are conducted at high schools and the regional career center, using either their qualified instructors or one from Sauk. (Note:  The drop in numbers in Figure 3iii below results from Sauk's adherence to the enactment of more stringent state rules and guidelines for enrollment eligibility.)
  • Video conferencing - Compressed video technology allows Sauk faculty to interact with students at a high school or another community college as they would in a traditional classroom. This format has allowed low-enrollment, on-campus courses to gain the students needed to be viable. Although increased internet course availability appears to be decreasing the need for video, the format plays a critical role in partnered criminal justice degrees with neighboring Highland Community College.
  • Internet access: The extensive availability and support of online offerings has allowed Sauk to expand access to learning in several different ways:
    • Online courses: From the early 1990’s, the college recognized the potential for increased student access through internet courses and offered its first such course in 1993. Through support and training provided by IT, the number of qualified instructors has grown and Sauk has about 70 online courses available.
    • Online certificates: As of May, 2010, HLC has approved online certificates in marketing and supervisory management, the first complete programs to be 100% attainable online.
  • Internet partnerships: The college effectively uses the availability of internet course offerings to expand student’s access to programs outside of the community:
    • ILCCO – Sauk is a member of Illinois Community Colleges Online (ILCCO), which has developed an Internet Course Exchange system where member colleges can share online courses. If an online course is not available at Sauk, counselors and advisors can search other ILCCO members to find the course. The Sauk student pays Sauk tuition.
    • NIOIN - Northern Illinois Online Initiative for Nursing (NIOIN) was launched in 2009 by four community colleges and eight regional hospitals as a hybrid program for nursing students. Students study the same course material online, but complete clinicals at their local hospitals.
    • Agriculture degrees - In 2010, Sauk partnered with University of Illinois to offer agriculture degrees. Combining online coursework and periodic on-site learning sessions at U of I agriculture facilities, Sauk students are able to complete most of the degree locally.

The graph below (see Figure 3iii) shows the trends for the credit hours that have been generated by some of these different modes of class delivery. Although the increase in online credit hours is significant, no research has been done to ascertain whether these are additional students or merely an alternate delivery selected by student enrolled in face-to-face classes.

Figure 3iii: Credit Hours by Mode of Delivery
Credit Hours by Mode of Delivery
Source: SVCC Banner Tracking System

3C.2: Campus Supports Interaction of Students and Faculty

The ways that students come into person-to-person contact with faculty both inside and outside of the classroom may play an important role in a student’s learning experience. Creating opportunities for students to meet, interact, and take on projects with other students around shared interests is also an important charge for the college, especially given the rural location of the campus.

Student Interaction

Like all community colleges, Sauk has many students who desire only to come to class, master the required outcomes, and return home. But many Sauk students look to the college to provide an environment that supports and respects their personal and social interests. To that end, various activities serve the diverse student population:

  • Performing arts: Students can participate in concert band and theatre productions as extra-curricular activities.
  • Student organizations: An array of student organizations provides social, educational, recreational, and cross-cultural opportunities. Any group of at least eight students is eligible to establish a club by recruiting an advisor and complying with the rules set out in the Student Organization Manual. Clubs come and go based on changing student interests and the availability of faculty and staff to be advisors, but the list that follows identifies the clubs active at the time of the self-study:
    • Association of Latin American Students (A.L.A.S.)
    • Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC)
    • Cheerleading
    • Criminal Justice Club
    • Disaster Relief Club
    • Health Career Club
    • International Students Organization (ISO)
    • Magic Club, a gaming group focused on a collector card game
    • Math Club
    • Promoting Respect, Individuality and Diversity for Everyone (P.R.I.D.E.)
    • Recreational Sports Club
    • Single Parents Association
    • Unique Abilities, an association of students with special needs
    • United Neo Otaku (U.N.O.), an anime interest group
  • Student government: Student Government Association (SGA) provides leadership opportunities for students. Besides representing the student body to the administration and Board of Trustees, SGA allocates funding to student organizations and sponsors a variety of extra-curricular activities and programs throughout the academic year.
  • Intercollegiate athletics: Sauk has 10 athletic teams with about 140 student athletes. Many of the teams study together in addition to their athletic activities.
  • Student Ambassador program: The Student Ambassador program is open to all Sauk students who volunteer to represent the college on campus and in the community. The program is designed to enrich the leadership skills of students who assist with college recruitment and public relations activities through personal appearances.

The campus provides places where students can gather. The cafeteria is a popular gathering place and has been furnished with a ping pong table for student use. The LAC encourages students to bring study groups into its casual study setting. Informal seating and study areas are scattered throughout the building. Creating additional student gathering space is one of the aims of the 2010 Facilities Master Plan.

Interaction with Faculty

The importance of student access to faculty cannot be overstated, and Sauk addresses that principle in several important ways:

  • Class size: Keeping class sizes small allows students more access to teachers for help and support. Class sizes are capped at levels determined by administration or, for online courses, by contract. The caps for some classes have been increased during the past few years as the number of sections were reduced in an effort to reduce the expense of offering classes with minimal enrollments. However, the average class size remains below the state average, as demonstrated by ICCB statistics for 2009 (see Figure 3iv).
    Figure 3iv: Average Class Sizes - 2009
     Lecture/ DiscussionLaboratoryAverage Class Size
    Sauk Valley 18.5 12.1 15.9
    Statewide 19.0 15.4 18.3
    Source: Illinois Community College Board
  • Technology: Faculty also provide students their college-supplied email addresses on each syllabus, so both full-time and adjunct faculty are accessible to students via email regardless of the type of course. Also, in fall 2010, 143 on-campus course sections offered online support using a course management system. According to IT data, this was approximately one-third higher than the previous year. Faculty using Blackboard, the system in place at that time, increased student access to course resources, assignments, and their grades; reduced the need for handouts; and supported students who missed classes. In addition, an internal email feature gives the student another access point for individual contact with and help from the teacher.
  • Office hours: Full time faculty members maintain at least six office hours per week, as set by contract. Scheduled between 8 a.m. and 9:30 p.m., office hours are held in the faculty office, LAC, or other approved instructional area. Faculty teaching internet courses may schedule one office hour to be spent online for each internet course. There are currently no office hour requirements for adjunct faculty.

3C.3: Advising Programs Focus on Student Success

The Counseling Office plays a critical role in carrying out the college Mission to “meet the needs of diverse students” by carrying out its own mission that it “acknowledges and respects that right of each individual to realize his or her fullest potential. . . while encouraging each person to take initiative and responsibility for his or her total development.” The Counseling Office, consisting of three full-time counselors and three part-time Academic Advisors, carries out several functions that support student learning and success:

  • Placement: Evaluation of incoming student abilities and placing each student at an optimum level to ensure success is a critical component of advisement in an open enrollment community college. Student placement is determined through evaluation of ACT scores and high school transcripts, as well as by administering Compass placement testing in English usage, reading, and math. Placement testing is available on campus, but counselors also provide testing options at local high schools. The Counseling Office provides information to prospective students about the placement policy through a Placement Guide, available as a booklet and on its webpage.
  • Educational planning: Every incoming full-time student meets with a Counselor or academic advisor to receive help in setting learning goals. The Counselors evaluate placement scores and help students establish plans for achieving their academic goal. They make the Myers-Briggs Inventory and other career and self-awareness instruments available to students and interpret the results for the students.
  • Referrals for special services: Counselors are the primary conduit for new students to the various support services Sauk offers to help them achieve student success. Such programs are discussed below in 3C.4.
  • Orientation: Counselors oversee and teach Orientation (PSY 100), a one-credit-hour course required of all degree-seeking students (except for students who transfer 16 or more credits into Sauk). About 48% of the incoming students will complete the course by the end of the fall semester. Because of capacity limitations, the college has not been able to deliver the course to everyone during the first semester, and some students postpone the course until the last semester of attendance.
  • Workshops and resources: The Counseling Office regularly provides workshops and events intended to contribute to student success. Some of these are funded through a particular program, such as Student Support Services, and then opened to the whole campus to attend. Others, like the annual Healthy Living Resource Fair, are campus-wide.

3C.4: Programs Support Overcoming Barriers

Community college students often face life challenges such as unemployment, child care needs, or personal crises, which undermine their ability to succeed academically. Sauk’s three counselors are qualified to provide counseling and help to students with personal issues. The Counseling Office also administers two programs that allow the campus community to respond to the needs of students:

  • Early Alert System: To allow proactive intervention by notifying counselors of student challenges, an Early Alert System was implemented in the fall 2009 semester. Faculty can discreetly refer a student by completing a web-based form that is automatically sent to a single-point coordinator in Counseling. The coordinator evaluates referrals and forwards them to the appropriate resource: SSS Transportation Committee for a transportation issue; Counseling for a personal issue; Advisors for attendance issues, etc. Resolution of the issue is communicated back through the coordinator to the faculty member(s) who made the referral. The Early Alert System was designed by a subcommittee and created digitally by the IS/IT staff.
  • Crisis Assistance Team: The Sauk Valley Crisis Assistance Team (SVCAT), established in 2009, has the primary purpose to confidentially address concerns about the personal wellbeing of students. Composed of counselors, faculty, and professional/technical staff with pertinent professional background, the Team investigates referrals and establishes an intervention plan to assist a person in need. The goal is to address potential crisis issues in their earliest stages so that proper interventions lead to a safe and healthy resolution. Any employee or student may refer someone to the SVCAT. A designated team member will provide immediate crisis intervention as applicable, gather initial information, determine if the situation warrants team involvement, and call an emergency meeting of the team, if appropriate. The SVCAT will determine and implement a plan of action or intervention, determine who outside of the team may have a need to know or to be involved, and provide a written summary of the incident and actions taken. In its first year, 21 personal crisis situations came to the team’s attention, 15 of which were handled on an individual basis and six by the entire team. Both of these initiatives arose out of concern over evidence that students were being lost to both academic and personal barriers. A system was needed for faculty to be able to communicate with counselors in a timely, confidential, efficient manner. Faculty received initial training and subsequent reminders of these processes since then.

Sauk also maintains support programs designed for demographic populations of students with similar types of barriers:

  • Student Support Services (SSS) is a federally funded TRIO program for first-generation, low-income, or special-needs students. Students who meet eligibility requirements receive academic counseling from SSS counselors, academic support through student success workshops, laptop and textbook loans, and scholarship incentives. SSS serves 200 Sauk students annually. During FY08, SSS offered 38 workshops which were attended by 480 students. SSS students performed better on average than all Sauk students in the following areas: year-to-year retention, transfer, graduation, good standing, and GPA.
  • Student Needs Coordinator is the primary contact for students with qualified disabilities, as defined under section 504 of the ADA, that are seeking services at SVCC. The Coordinator oversees priority registration, classroom accommodations, provides study skills assistance and personal support. Students must self-identify to receive services, but the Coordinator attends IEP meetings at local high schools to encourage higher education programs as appropriate for graduating high school seniors.
  • Veterans Services are provided by a dedicated Veterans Service Coordinator, who is a counselor. Traditionally provided by the Counseling Office on an informal basis, the state-mandated program provides veterans and their families assistance with educational benefits, counseling, and readjustment services, among others. In FY10, the program served 92 vets and their families.
  • Cross-Cultural Coordinator identifies and supports Sauk’s Hispanic and minority students. The Coordinator, who serves 35 – 40 students each year , makes referrals to support for coursework and family issues, plans events that showcase cultural backgrounds, and provides leadership opportunities. Through the grant-funded Families United for a Strong Education (FUSE) program, which began in 2005, the Coordinator encourages families to set higher educational goals for their children. The Cross-Cultural Coordinator also coordinates international admissions of students with the Admissions Office by serving as Sauk’s international students’ primary designated school official.

A retention initiative undertaken in spring 2010 is a cross-institutional effort to address student barriers to success in learning. The initiative includes two major components:

  • Perkins /Retention Coordinator: Funded in part by a Perkins federal grant, this new position includes a charge to “take an integrated approach in retention efforts” and “to create a socially inclusive and supportive academic environment that addresses the social, emotional, and academic needs of students.” The Coordinator chairs the retention committee and provides various support programs and activities. In addition, a grant to create a learning community, which is designed to support underprepared learners, is being implemented as the self-study is concluded.
  • Retention Committee: This cross-institutional committee, which was re-established after a multi-year hiatus, collects and examines retention data, develops initiatives to improve retention, and communicates ideas and expectations to the campus community.

3C.5: Learning Environments Support Underprepared Students

As an open enrollment college, Sauk recognizes that an important part of its Mission is to help community members to become prepared for a college education. These efforts reach out into the community, serve the enrolling population of students, and continue through various support services available to all students. In conjunction with state regulations and grant funding, the college provides services to those for whom the educational system has failed or been inaccessible:

  • Literacy service: For almost 25 years, Sauk has hosted Project VITAL, a state grant-funded literacy program that recruits and trains tutors to provide free one-on-one tutoring services to adults who are unable to read at a 9th-grade level. In FY10, Project VITAL had 82 tutors working with 115 students more than 690 hours per month in 60 towns within the 1,625 square mile college district.
  • Adult Education: The Adult Education Department utilizes a combination of four state and federal grants to provide Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education, and English as a Second Language. The programs strive to make students more employable, more productive community members, and to transition to vocational training or higher education. Over 21% of Sauk's district population over the age of 25 do not have a GED or high school diploma and 6.9% are in need of ESL services, according to the most current data. The Adult Education Department served an average of 340 students per year, with an average of 42% of those receiving ESL services.
  • Developmental courses: Sauk applies the term “developmental” to a set of pre-college level courses in which a student may enroll for developmental, rather than college credit. These are clearly designated in the catalog and schedule with a course number lower than 100. Students are placed in these courses in accordance with Sauk’s placement policy. Developmental students often include non-traditional students who need a refresher after years away from the classroom and traditional students who satisfied high school graduation requirements but are not prepared for college-level expectations.
  • Academic Development Department: A new Academic Development unit began operating in FY08, which placed a single director over the combined areas of adult education, AmeriCorps, developmental education, Learning Assistance Center (LAC), and Student Needs to provide more coordination among these areas in support of developmental students. The Director of Academic Development has worked with the cross-institutional Developmental Education Committee to undertake improvements in placement policy and tutor training, revise the exit testing from developmental courses, and establish the Testing Center. As the self-study is concluding, an administrative reorganization has re-focused the unit on Project Vital, adult education, the LAC, and coordinating the developmental course curriculum. Data on the effectiveness of the revisions will flow through operational planning processes starting this year.

3C.6: Technologies Enhance Effective Learning Environments

Sauk boasts an enviable level of technology directed toward enhancing student learning, which is managed by the Information Services/Instructional Technology (IS/IT) Department (Link to another section of the Self-Study3D.2):

  • Access to computers: There are approximately 325 computers designated for student use throughout classrooms, labs and other locations. All students have access to the wireless network for laptops and personal devices when they are on campus.
  • Technology-enhanced classrooms: In 38 of the 44 general use classrooms, instructors have access to a multi-media projection system (up from 16 classrooms so equipped in 2006). The equipment in these rooms includes a ceiling-mounted projector, wall-mounted speakers, and an instructor console that contains a computer, document presenter, and DVD/VCR player. In those few classrooms that do not have enhanced technology, portable technology carts can be requested for use by faculty.
  • Composition classrooms: Sauk students learn composition and research skills in a specially designated and equipped set of classrooms known as the Write Place, which has been in place at the college for nearly 20 years. Here students learn to use Microsoft Word™ to create finished essays which conform to the published standards of MLA. Instructors can use the computer application Insight™ which may be used to project lecture notes and writing samples or to interact with individual students as they compose. The Internet is available to allow use of the online databases and textbook supplements or may be blocked when necessary.
  • Online course management: In addition to its use for online courses, any full-time or adjunct faculty member may use course management software (currently Moodle) as a supplement to on-campus courses.
  • Program-specific technologies: Sauk’s instructional programs utilize a variety of specialized technologies, including the following examples:
    • The Biology area has portable, high-resolution monitors attached to computers with wireless internet connections, and a microscope with a digital camera. This allows classes to search for images online and the project them on the screen, and to find and display images in the microscope and save the images for later use.
    • The Chemistry area uses a gas chromatograph to separate components of a mixture, as well as infrared and atomic absorption spectrometers to identify a substance’s components.
    • The Electronics program uses the PSpice simulation software to design and test an electronic circuit prior to building it.
    • The Nursing labs are configured to look like patient hospital rooms and contain much of the same equipment. Among the technologies are laptop computers with patient records software that are transported on carts among patient rooms.

3C.7: Educational Services Included in Continuous Improvement System

Sauk is firmly committed to continuous improvement of its educational services. Its system of evaluation and review ties appropriate forms of data to varying forms of service. Every five years, each office and academic area complete a comprehensive program review, at which time an array of data and measures receives scrutiny. However, the primary mechanism for quality improvement review is annual operational planning. This process requires that every action plan be identified by its source, such as assessment, program review, department discussion, or some other source. A sampling follows (Link to another section of the Self-Study3D.4):

  • The Adult Education Department gathers data on ten measures as required by the National Reporting Standards. In addition, enrollment and completion statistics for the program are gathered through a data system called DAISI, which is used as a means to measure the effectiveness of Adult Education class sites on a variety of factors, including post-test rates. For example, based on FY09 data, four ineffective adult education class sites were eliminated. For FY10 the department will also be using unemployment data in its planning to identify communities with the highest need for GED and ESL classes.
  • Student Support Services (SSS) use a Likert Scale Assessment in combination with open-ended questions to assess the effectiveness of each of their program activities (workshops and college visits). The activities are evaluated immediately after they take place. SSS also evaluates the effectiveness of its program by having program participants complete an end-of-the-year comprehensive evaluation, which it confirms by examining data on retention, graduation, transfer, and GPA of student participants. In FY09, for example, individual programs and events received an overall average of 4.6 (out of 5 possible). An end-of-the-year comprehensive evaluation by program participants gave an average rating of 4.7. Data showed that for FY08 over 93% of program participants remained in good academic standing.

3D: Supports Student Learning and Effective Teaching

Sauk Valley Community College's learning resources support student learning and effective teaching.

The architects and engineers who camped out on the riverbank while they designed the campus in 1965 promised a campus with “flexibility, convertibility, stability.” (Out of the Prairie, p. 26)  “Everyone liked” the “mall concept” in the design phase, with clusters of classrooms along open corridors. However, 25 years later, the planning committee would report that once the building was constructed, “there was quite a bit of debate about all the wasted space” (p. 27). The long-range consequence of those early design decisions is that Sauk Valley Community College consistently ranks low on the ICCB room utilization scale. The challenge is that the college’s 140.7 Net Assignable Square Feet per FTE (2003 Master Plan) isn’t easily converted to classroom use because of the mall concept of the building design. From the 2000 master plan to the 2005 master plan, the college added two classrooms and 126 additional seats, but remained consistently near the bottom of the state rankings. The 2010 plan is focused on creating the best utilization of classroom spaces and improving student life spaces. Despite financial obstacles, Sauk has used local funding bonds and grants to routinely make selective improvements to various campus facilities.

3D.1: Facilities Support Teaching and Learning

In accordance with Illinois Community College Board rules, the college has periodically developed a Facilities Master Plan, which addresses instructional and student space requirements, to guide it in setting priorities. Sauk has consistently applied for ICCB Resource Allocation and Management Plan (RAMP) funds and had reached the top of the list for projects identified in its 2000 Master Plan just as the state froze funding. In FY11, the Board of Trustees has taken the first steps to begin the 2010 Master Plan’s 15-year redesign of the campus. The first priority of three five-year phases will upgrade and improve the technology area and completely update the science laboratories and equipment.

Despite limitations in physical and financial capacity, Sauk has made carefully selected choices to maintain and improve the facility in ways that support teaching and learning:

  • Technology area: A RAMP grant proposal in 2000 to move the technology area to the T-1 Building (west of the main building) was finally approved in 2005, by which time increased project costs made the project cost prohibitive. However, the college used available local funds for several small remodeling projects to improve the area’s instructional layout. The 2010 Master Plan has identified the technology area for the first phase of remodeling, scheduled for FY12.
  • Art and music areas: Although the 2000 Master Plan vision of a west-end fine arts center was not possible when the technology area did not relocate to T-1, some improvements were made in 2005:
    • In the visual arts area, remodeling of the existing second floor art area created significant improvements in the program’s studio, storage, and display space.
    • The music area was expanded to accommodate a recording studio, and the piano lab was relocated to that area from the third floor.
    • The band room was relocated from a second floor area behind the gym to a basement area directly below the music area.
  • Technology-enhanced classrooms: Sauk has systematically upgraded 38 of its 44 (86%) general purpose classrooms with multimedia projection equipment that enhance opportunities for student engagement activities in the lecture setting.
  • Learning Resources Center: In 2003, the LRC was renovated in response to student needs resulting from “major changes in library support technology.” Renovations included the creation of computer work stations, enhancements in study and reading areas, replacement of the circulation desk and card catalog, and ADA-compliant spacing and furnishings in the study and circulation desk areas.

3D.2: Resources for Learning and Teaching

Although much of the study demonstrates how all aspects of the institution exist in support of student learning, three departments are particularly direct providers of support services for teaching and learning:

  1. Learning Resources Center (LRC)

    The LRC, while providing the traditional library functions, also provides digital services and professional expertise available to faculty, students, and community residents. During the fall 2010 semester, the LRC had a total of 1,743 active patrons: 1,571 Sauk students and staff, 87 local high school students, and 40 community members.

    • Services: The Library provides access to a wide array of resources:
      • a collection of 76,276 print volumes; 4,369 audio-visual materials; 200 print periodicals; 12 newspapers; 1,972 ebooks; and 22 databases, including, for example, Access Science, American National Biography, EBSCO (consists of 14 different databases), Literature Resource Center, and WorldCat.
      • the online I-Share catalogue, in which students and faculty can search and obtain the resources of 76 Illinois libraries belonging to the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI).
      • 5 media viewing rooms, 19 computers, specialized academic software, and two printers.
      • reference services available by email and by phone, including a new “Text a Librarian” option, which expands access to the library staff for students off-campus.
    • Access: The LRC's regular hours ensure its availability when students are on campus. Online services, such as the research databases and interlibrary loan requests, are available at all times.
    • Course support: The library staff conducts library tours for classes upon request by faculty, averaging 25 tours a year from FY07 to FY10 and serving an average of 505 students. These tours include a demonstration of searching the digital card catalog for the physical items in the library; requesting interlibrary loans; and an introduction to the online databases and how to use them. The LRC staff has worked with Counseling to add the tours to all sections of Orientation (PSY 100 ) beginning in FY11, giving 43 tours to a total of 744 students as a result.
    • Staffing: The LRC is currently staffed by a Coordinator of Reference Services, a Coordinator of LRC Technical Services, one full-time and one part-time assistant, and three part-time workstudy students. Both coordinators have master's degrees in library and information science as well as previous library experience. A retired Sauk librarian serves as an unofficial part-time interim Director of the LRC. An active search for a director during summer of 2009 was unsuccessful in finding a full-time director. At the time of the self-study, the position is not posted.
  2. Learning Assistance Center (LAC)

    The LAC supports student learning by providing a variety of developmental services.

    • Services: The LAC’s major services and functions include tutoring, academic tools, computers, math testing services, and accommodations for students with disabilities.
      • On a walk-in basis, the LAC provides tutoring in Mathematics, Composition, Accounting, Biology, Chemistry, Spanish, CIS, Statistics, Sociology, Psychology, Physics, and Economics. The schedule of availability of tutors for each academic discipline is posted each semester.
      • Academic tools include videos, CDs, textbooks, and handouts on a variety of study skills and academic topics, and a webpage of resource links.
      • Computers are available to allow students to work on compositions, online courses, or supplemental website activities with assistance from tutors.
      • The LAC provides retest options for developmental math and on-campus college-level math courses. Students who have failed a developmental math test may review the failed test with a tutor prior to attempting a retest. Developmental math students pay a course fee to help cover the cost of standardized retesting services. A testing room is available for paper and online tests. Until the opening of the Testing Center, the LAC administered much of the proctored testing on campus.
      • The LAC maintains accommodations for students with disabilities, including, for example, elevated tables and the Kurzweil program, which can read to visually impaired or dyslexic students. Beginning in FY09, all special needs students are using the LAC’s facility for their tutoring appointments.
    • Access: The LAC’s regular hours during most times that students are on campus ensure its availability for students.
    • Staffing: The LAC has a full-time Coordinator, who also serves as a tutor, and a staff of 12-15 tutors: four are part-time college staff and the rest are students recommended by faculty. Over the past two years the LAC has also had two community members volunteer their time tutoring. As of fall 2010, two additional special needs tutors are available daily to meet the specific needs of students and assist the general student population. About a half dozen faculty members have volunteered to work in the LAC during an office hour.
    • Professional development: Since its establishment, the LAC has offered tutor training at the beginning of the fall semester. Starting in fall 2008, LAC tutors participate in a combined training program for tutors from various campus programs. The LAC also invites faculty and staff from various academic disciplines to do mini-module training periodically during the year (English, math, Special Needs Office, etc.). Most LAC employees (about 85%), participate in professional development activities.
  3. Informational Services/Instructional Technology (IS/IT)

    IS/IT has the challenging responsibility to provide rapidly changing technology resources and support to students and staff.

    • Access: The IS/IT Department is open during the day for students and staff and also provides phone or walk-in support for the evening classes. College staff and students may also contact IS/IT (during on and off hours) at or by completing the online Technical Support Request form.
    • Services: IS/IT, which works together as a team, is separated into two offices that serve the Sauk community in different ways:
      • Instructional Technology (IT) is the office that supports student learning and effective teaching. IT maintains and supports all the various forms of instructional technology found in classrooms or available for check out. IT conducts professional development on multi-media and online instructional materials, course design, and new technologies.
      • Information Services (IS) primarily supports the administrative functions of the college, maintaining the network, servers, Banner software, and internet resources; providing data; and instructing and supporting staff and students in the use of campus hardware and software.
    • Technology support: IS/IT is charged with integrating technologies that enhance instruction, providing greater access to learning through the use of technologies and providing training and support to faculty and staff. This support takes a wide variety of forms:
      • Staff and student support: Beyond regular staffing in the IS/IT office, the department employs work study computer technicians during the operating hours of the open computer lab for students. In 2009, IT established a help desk at a central point on campus where students may seek help with software or hardware issues during the first week of each semester. An Instructional Technology Specialist/Designer is available specifically to assist with faculty with online course development and to provide one-on-one training.
      • Technology-enhanced classrooms: The IS/IT staff maintains the hardware and software in 38 technology-enhanced classrooms and provides training and assistance to faculty.
      • Computer classrooms: Seven classrooms are equipped with a computer for each student and Insight™ teaching software that provides instructional features, including remote control of student computers, blocking of the Internet and applications, and display of teaching resources.
      • Equipment checkout: Faculty and staff may check out a variety of devices, including classroom technologies like clickers and presentation equipment like projectors and laptops.
      • Training: The IT staff plans and conducts technology training for faculty and staff in a variety of formats: weekly training sessions; an eight week online course; in-service presentations; and one-on-one training.
    • Staffing: Sauk has a total of nine full-time IS/IT staff, compared to the average of 12.9 at seven peer Illinois community colleges. Although currently understaffed, the group works as a team to provide coverage, solve problems, and improve and update services. 

3D.3: Evaluation of Learning Resources

All of Sauk's learning resources are subject to the institution’s planning and review processes.

  • Operational planning: Discrete units like the Library, LAC, and IS/IT do separate Operational Plans and evaluate their contributions to the college’s Strategic Plan each year. This process results in plans to make improvements in teaching and learning, among other Strategic Goals. Other resources, particularly those tied closely to a curricular area, like laboratory and clinical facilities, are evaluated within the specific academic area to which they apply. In all cases, an opportunity for annual evaluation is in place, and actions receive documentation in the Operational Plan and in the budget process when applicable.
  • Program review: Every five years, support departments participate in program review, at which time an evaluation of data informs decision-making for the future and feeds into the strategic planning system.
  • Committee structure: Each of the primary learning resources has cross-curricular evaluation available for its annual review of data and operational planning through the Sauk committee structure:
    • The Learning Resource Center Committee reviews and provides feedback for all major LRC policy and rule changes. As evidenced by committee minutes, the LRC benefits from committee review of data and resources and cross-institutional brainstorming on ways of improving service. For example, an effort to improve the holdings and use of the database collection resulted from committee suggestions.
    • The Institutional Technology Committee, a cross-institutional committee, participates in annual planning for IS/IT. The committee recommends technology priorities and assists in ongoing review of services. Valuable feedback has been provided by the student members of the committee. For example, when student members indicated that most students prefer to use the email they had prior to coming to Sauk, the website was revised to include instructions for students to forward their Sauk email to another email account.
    • The LAC participates in the Developmental Education Committee to enhance the benefit from cooperation and collaboration with other offices designed to foster student success. As a member of the committee, the LAC Coordinator has participated in the cross-institutional effort to create coordinated tutor training, establish the Testing Center, increase access to special needs tutors in the LAC, and improve services to developmental-level students.

3D.4: Data-Influenced Improvements

An examination of Operational Plans and program review documents reveals that learning resources departments are participating in data-influenced action planning:

  • LRC: The LRC compares the size of its collections with that of the libraries in the seven peer colleges (see Figure 3v). This data shows that Sauk is maintaining a larger-than-average collection, especially of electronic reference sources. Based on this data, the plan for future purchases includes . . .
    • maintaining the existing number of printed items by replacing and updating old items, rather than enlarging the collection.
    • increasing the size of the electronic collection by shifting some of its traditional library materials to digital forms.
    • decreasing the number of printed journals and magazines by only purchasing materials that faculty and students use.
    Figure 3v: Library Holdings
     Electronic  ServicesPrint MaterialsE-BooksPrint
    Print Materials Per FTE StudentAudiovisual Materials
    Sauk Valley Community College 35 78,487 1,972 240 42.94 4,102
    Comparison Group Average 14 36,438 1,213 169 18.27 3,232
    % difference 150.0% 115.4% 62.6% 42.0% 135.0% 26.9%
    State Median (IL) 20 40,924 27 204 NA 1,688
    Source: National Center for Education Statistics, Academic Libraries Survey Fiscal Year: 2008
  • IS/IT: The most recent IT survey that was distributed to faculty and staff indicated the following in regard to use of technology services:
    • All of the Faculty respondents agreed (66.7%) or strongly agreed (33.3%) that “Hardware/equipment supported by the department are reliable and available for me to perform my duties in the office or classroom.”
    • Regarding usability of the Sauk website, 81.5% of faculty reported only 1 to 3 incidents of difficulty locating information in the three months prior to the survey; 12.25% reported 4 to 6 difficulties; and only 6.25% of faculty had 10 or more.
    • Blackboard classroom tools were rated as excellent by 33.25% of the faculty; sufficient or adequate by 60.5%. Only 6.25% rated the tools as extremely lacking.
  • LAC: The LAC currently uses several methods to generate data against which to evaluate the use of its learning resources:
    • Computerized tracking provides accurate daily student usage since the LAC implemented the use of a Log-In Attendance System in fall 2006. The system has created an efficient way to track use of the LAC services and to analyze staff work schedules to provide tutoring services when most needed.
    • Student surveys, conducted every two to four years, gather information on student use of the LAC and the quality of services. Findings from the most recent 2008 survey resulted in improvement action plans. For example, students reported using the LAC to do the following (in order of frequency): homework; tutoring; testing. This information was incorporated into training to help tutors meet student expectations for service.
    • Faculty evaluation of services, conducted every three years, gathers data regarding the services faculty use most and find most helpful, as well as what suggestions they have for improvements. Of the 58 full-time and adjunct faculty who participated in the 2008 survey, 93% found the overall service of the LAC to be helpful or very helpful.  At the time of the self-study, the LAC has not yet had opportunity to gather data on its revised services, in which only on-campus math does its testing in the LAC, freeing staff time for increased availability for tutoring.



  • The faculty owns the curriculum, as evidenced by our procedures related to course and curriculum decisions.
  • Sauk offers a variety of class format and scheduling options that increase student access to courses while remaining within budgetary restrictions.
  • The priority we place on student success is evidenced by the integrated variety of services and procedures intended to help students overcome barriers, individual challenges, and lack of college readiness.
  • The annual technology showcase provides a commendable opportunity for faculty to network with each other on new strategies and technologies that they are implementing for their classes.
  • The Testing Center creation is a testament to our potential for institutional improvement when annual operational planning and program review combine to bring data and cross-institutional discussion to bear on a perceived problem.
  • One of the strengths of our assessment of student learning is the faculty's regular participation in overseeing the continued improvement of the system itself.
  • We have reason to be proud of the development of the institutional-level general education assessment projects and the extent to which the faculty interacts about the general education competencies.


  • Everyone is required to submit a conference report after attending a conference. These reports are not submitted consistently by everyone and the reports that are submitted are simply placed in a file. The self-study committee recommends that the conference report procedure be revised so information obtained can be shared in a way that benefits the institution.
  • As a community college, Sauk is focused more on teaching and learning than on research done by its faculty. However, there is no specific acknowledgment by the college of excellence in teaching other than the promotion policy. The self-study committee recommends that the college explore ways that it might provide recognition to its best teachers.
  • In the current design of the Assessment of Academic Achievement, there is no clear connection to the non-credit certificate programs. It is not entirely clear whether this is a significant gap in the system. The self-study committee recommends that this issue be investigated and a recommendation made on how to appropriately assess this category of certificates.
  • The college has made little or no effort to communicate to the public the good work it is doing to assess its student learning and the achievements of those students. The self-study committee recommends that the Assessment Committee revise the assessment plan to create guidelines ensuring the systematic public access to appropriate assessment data.
  • The IS/IT department is short-staffed, which is likely to undercut expansion of services if it continues. Deterioration in IS/IT services is likely to have a ripple effect across the whole institution that would impair student learning and effective teaching. The self-study committee recommends that additional hiring for IS/IT positions be made a priority as funding becomes available.

Opportunities for Growth

  • The guidelines for applying for Faculty Development funds do not clearly require identification of the type of information the conference will address (for example, assessment, technology, teaching and learning, etc.). The self-study committee recommends the guidelines be revised to track specific categories of content that are of interest to Sauk.
  • As the college increases its reliance on adjunct faculty, Sauk must assure that the quality of instruction is not compromised by adjuncts who are not engaged with campus opportunities and support. The self-study committee makes the following recommendations:
    • Create a formal mentorship program in which full-time faculty would support adjunct faculty.
    • Require adjunct faculty to have on-campus or online office hours appropriate to their course loads.
    • Consider providing a stipend for or requiring participation in some essential in-service activities each year.
  • Sauk uses a wide variety of data to influence its decision-making processes; however, the communication of data among committees, academic programs, and support offices is sporadic and often dependent on individual initiative. The self-study committee recommends that ways be sought to strengthen communication of data among the various units of the college.
  • Given the tight economy, teaching more students per section makes sense on the surface. However, class size influences retention and instruction. The self-study committee recommends that the Retention Committee should examine the implications of raising class caps for student persistence and success.
  • Despite the assessment system focus on the GECC areas, certain disciplines, such as music or education, may require a discipline-level assessment when success in subsequent transfer work is dependent on a very specific sequence of discipline-specific skills. The system is responsive enough to allow for such discipline-level outcomes to be developed and assessed where appropriate. The self-study committee recommends careful monitoring of the change by the Core Team and Assessment Committee.
  • Because of the importance of Board involvement in supporting a culture of assessment, the self-study committee recommends that some reporting mechanism be added to the Assessment Plan to assure communication to the Board about assessment findings.
  • The culture of assessment can only be maintained if adjuncts and new faculty are given clear instruction in the system and expectations for their participation. The self-study committee suggests that the Assessment Committee design an orientation mechanism to ensure that new faculty members understand assessment tasks.
  • The most recent revision of the assessment system has revealed overlap of the general education competencies of mathematics and communications, which are also GECC areas. In addition, the faculty has provided evidence that it values diversity. The self-study committee suggests that when the faculty re-evaluates the general education competencies, these findings should be addressed.