Critical Thinking Imperative

Four years ago, PVCC joined the Higher Learning Commission’s Persistence and Completion Academy in an effort to improve student success as measured by course completion, persistence into the following semester and ultimately student goal completion (i.e. degree/certificate completion, transfer, etc.). Our initial efforts were lead primarily by Dr. Felicia Ramirez, Professor Christine Tabone, and IR/IE Director John Snelling.

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Academy Results Forum with Felicia, Christine and Heather Stevens, where our findings were presented to the other cohort college and university teams. The premise of the PVCC’s work focused on implementation of the Critical Thinking Academy with the overall thesis being: the single most influential lever to improve student persistence and completion was to enhance the student learning experience through embedding critical thinking pedagogy throughout the curriculum.

Early on throughout the academy process, our project was challenged as it did not fit into the traditional, often marginal “enrollment management” strategies. We were the only project that placed learning at the core of our efforts to improve student persistence. You can imagine then the sense of irony we experienced during the closing session, where HLC presenters suggested that moving forward, redefining the “student learning experience” was likely to be the most important strategy to improve student success and completion.

As we returned from the Academy Forum Thursday on a delayed, late-night flight, I picked up my latest summer reading, Educated by Tara Westover and was more than pleasantly reminded of the power of learning. Westover’s New York Times best seller is a memoir reflecting on her journey through higher education having come from a poor, isolated rural family environment during which time she did not attend any formal schooling. She reflected on her studies of the Holocaust and the American civil rights movement  “…realizing that what a person knows about the past is limited, and will always be limited, to what they are told by others, I knew what is was to have a misconception corrected – a misconception of such magnitude that shifting it shifted {my} world.” What a wonderful example of the power of critical thinking.” In essence, Westover argues that it was the challenging learning experience, which despite no formal prior education, propelled her to excel.

PVCC’s motto of the “Power of Learning” and our long-standing commitment to the tenants of a learning-centered college could not be more profound as we successfully demonstrated a very strong link between improved critical thinking skills and improved student persistence and completion. I would also argue, that if you listen carefully, there are hundreds of Tara Westovers at PVCC yearning to be engaged as active, critical learners.