A complete redesign. That’s how Betty Fortune, Executive Director of Success and Completion at Houston Community College, describes the efforts to reimagine and revamp the institution’s onboarding process.

“Many of the processes were manual, which resulted in students coming to campus to turn in SAT scores, transcripts, shot records, and proof of residency. It was quite tedious.”

In Fall 2015, HCC embarked on a year-long process to identify and implement a more seamless system of onboarding for students, one that would encourage early career exploration and create a clearer alignment between interests and programs of study. From the beginning, Fortune said she tried to think cross-functionally, assembling a leadership team that represented all campus departments.

“This team was comprised of people from every area of the college that would impact the students life cycle at the college – registration, advising, data, IT, faculty, as well as executives,” said Fortune.

Next, she focused on collecting “the data behind the story” that would inform the institution’s next steps. Placement data. Persistence data. Success rates. She pulled it all and shared it with the team. Fortune says reviewing the data was a sobering experience. She asked the team two questions: Are we happy about this data? If not, what should we do about it?

Fortune also wanted to bring student perspectives into the planning process. She invited several students to speak directly to the team about their respective onboarding experiences. In addition, several student focus groups were held to better understand the student point of view. That input proved to be very powerful.

Fortune feels members of the planning team were empowered to share what they were learning with colleagues and generate buy-in for the changes ahead.

In January 2018, Houston Community College officially launched a new onboarding system, Choose Your Path. Gone are the days of mandatory visits to campus to complete the application process. Students can do it all online now, with the exception of testing for placement purposes. Choose Your Path also offers prospective and incoming students with valuable information on areas of study, possible career options and labor market data, while prompting them to complete a career assessment through Career Coach.

Students are directed to bring their assessment scores to new student orientation where they can discuss them with advisors in an effort to help them declare a program of study prior to registering for classes. Another improvement to the onboarding process is the new Student Success Course, a required first semester course for first-year students, regardless of whether they have chosen a major or not, which includes an experiential learning activity.

“The course provides students with work-based experience to solidify if this is exactly the program of study they wish to pursue,” said Fortune.

Fortune says the focus on assessment and improvement will continue. Internal and external stakeholders, including community business leaders, are invited to participate in a bi-annual report and provide feedback.

Early results from HCC’s new onboarding system are promising. A total of 6720 students were reached with career assessments and advising during the Spring 2018 semester, a significant increase from the 1046 students who received career assessments and advising over the entire 2016-17 academic year.

“There are things that we can clearly see,” said Fortune. “Students are declaring majors earlier and staying on those paths, and we can make predictions from that.”