Moving students from developmental education classes into college credit courses isn’t a new concept, but implementing the COM-101 Bridge Program to help students make the jump more quickly has earned faculty and employees from several areas of the college the 2017 Innovation of the Year Award.

The COM-101 Bridge Program allows high-performing students in COM-085 to bypass COM-095 and move right into COM-101. To take advantage of “bridging,” students must either place within 10 points of the cutoff score on the COM-101 placement test or have a recommendation from their COM-085 instructor.

The trade-off for students is they are required to sign a contract agreeing to one extra hour of instruction with their COM-101 teacher every week. This extra hour is spent however the instructor sees fit. According to Bill Hogan, instructor of Communications and the first faculty member to participate in the program, the regular, more intimate weekly meetings allow him to develop a better relationship with his students.

“I’ve had bridge classes with seven students, and we spent our weekly meetings having coffee and talking about school and writing. I’ve had more intense bridge classes with only two students who were very focused on instruction and wanted to work in a concrete way,” Hogan said. “We don’t give them extra work, but we respond to their needs working in the context of the COM-101 curriculum. Students benefit tremendously from more personalized contact with their instructor, and we’ve seen results.”

Pass rates have proven students in this program are successful. As of December 2016, 300 students participated in the Bridge Program, and 87 percent of them passed COM-101 with a grade of C or higher (43 percent had a B or higher). Of those students who continued on to COM-102, 84 percent of them earned grades of C or higher.

“I’m so impressed with all of the collaborative efforts that have gone into creating and executing this complex program,” said Dr. Tom Dow, professor of Communications. “Along the way, faculty, administrators as well as scheduling, IT and support staff have offered a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude toward this project, knowing this type of intensive supplemental instruction would help our students succeed. And, if they successfully complete a gateway course like COM-101, they are much more likely to graduate.”

The program was introduced by Michael Morsches, dean of Learning Enrichment and College Readiness, who was looking to improve retention rates of students in the developmental communication classes sequence. His staff Jeffrey Carpenter, tutor specialist, and Kipp Cozad, coordinator of tutoring and literacy, joined him in rolling out the program.

Since its inception on campus in summer 2013, the COM-101 Bridge Program has grown from two to nine sections running in spring 2017. This spring, 11 full-time Composition instructors will have taught the Bridge COM-101/COM-098 courses, including one full-time Developmental Composition instructor. The college also offers this program to students at the Education Center at Blue Island.

“The team is honored to receive this award; the project was a large undertaking that could not have been accomplished without the assistance from all areas of the college,” said Dr. Wally Fronczek, dean of Liberal Arts. “Many faculty, staff and administrators assisted in the development of this program, which in turn will help our students succeed.”