JANESVILLE

Blackhawk Technical College describes its latest project as “co-locating services to support pathways initiatives designed to improve student retention and success.”

It would be easier to call it “remodeling for success.”

Last year, the Blackhawk Technical College Board approved a three-year facilities plan. Such plans usually languish on some administrator’s shelf, but work already has started on one of the school’s top priorities: combining the student success center and the library for a new learning resource center.

The student success center, which is at the front of the building, houses learning labs, a testing center, tutors and open areas for studying.

The library is toward the back of the building. An enclosure in recent Blackhawk Technical College Board packet notes the library’s holdings and resource material have “largely migrated to an electronic/online format” resulting in the need for less space.

The cost of the remodeling to combine the two will cost an estimated $280,000 and must still be approved the Wisconsin Technical College System Board. The project will be paid for with money from previous remodeling projects that came in under budget.

Mind set

It’s significant that Blackhawk officials decided to do the learning resource center before the other 10 items on the list. The project is more than a consolidation and a name change. If it is successful, more students will stay in school, more students will graduate and even more will consider the possibility of continuing their educations after getting their associate degrees.

“There’s a pretty significant synergy in having those two groups in one place,” said Jon Tysse, Blackhawk Tech’s director of institutional research and effectiveness. “It’s all based on theoretical research that has proven to be true over time.”

First the obvious: Student who go to tutoring do better in school. Students who visit the research librarian do better on their papers.

Now the unexpected: Students who visit the research librarian are three times more likely to return to school the next semester.

“Students need to understand that there’s more than just their instructors,” Tysse said. “There’s other people who care about them and want them to succeed.”

It’s not just about the librarian, it’s about students becoming more a part of an institution.

“The most interesting piece is that when you have engagement outside the classroom, the students become more engaged with their work, more engaged with the belief in themselves and more engaged with the idea of themselves as a graduates,” Tysse said.

Tysse pointed to the work of Vincent Tinto, a sociologist whose specialty is student retention and learning communities.

In a September 2016 essay in “Inside Higher Education,” Tinto wrote about the qualities students need to graduate successfully.

One is “self-efficacy,” a term Tinto defines as “a person’s belief in their ability to succeed at a particular task or in a specific situation.”

It’s a quality that’s learned, and unlike self-confidence, it can vary from task to task.

Another is a sense of belonging.

“While believing one can succeed in college is essential for persistence to completion, it does not in itself ensure it,” Tinto wrote in his essay. “For that to occur, students have to come to see themselves as a member of a community of other students, faculty and staff who value their membership—that they matter and belong.”

That’s what Tysse sees happening here.

“This is going to be really powerful move for our students,” Tysse said. “It’s going to have lasting effects, both for the students who graduate and for the community.”

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