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Start Strong. Finish Stronger

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Why is the QEP important to students, faculty, and staff at Isothermal?

The QEP is required as part of the accreditation process by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). It provides Isothermal with an excellent opportunity to improve and enrich our overall institutional quality and effectiveness.


Isothermal Community College, a member of the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS), is a comprehensive, two-year, public institution that serves individuals in Rutherford and Polk Counties. Isothermal offers more than sixty certificate, diploma, and degree curricula serving approximately 2,000 students. The core of the College’s mission is to improve lives through learning, creating a higher quality of life in its service region.

For the past two years, Rutherford County has been designated a “distressed county” by the Appalachian Regional Commission and therefore faces significant economic challenges. In a service area where un- and under-employment are the norm, a student’s educational plan to complete a degree is often interrupted. This, in part, has resulted in retention and completion rates below the state average.

"The Start Strong. Finish Stronger." Initiative (SSFS) focuses on increasing students’ abilities to set a realistic, time-bound goal—degree completion. In addition, it emphasizes the ability to solve complex problems, such as identifying the barriers to completion associated with working two jobs while taking twelve credits.

That is, knowing how to progress in college and complete a degree requires purposeful inquiry. Students must demonstrate the ability:  to set a realistic, time-bound goal, anticipate barriers to the stated goal, reevaluate those barriers, and then adjust actions or revise the goal. The SSFS Initiative will teach these success skills with an aspiration to see them transfer into future successes in the student’s life.

The SSFS implements, what the College refers to as, comprehensive educational planning, including mandatory orientation, academic success course within the first two semesters, and strategic planning and goal setting with an academic advisor. When needed, a Support Team (comprised of faculty and professional advisors) will work with an under-performing student to adjust to his or her educational plan, called a Master Academic Plan (MAP). Additional strategies include: faculty and staff training on the enhanced student success course curriculum, the early intervention system, and dynamic advising strategies as well as implementing a timetabling software program to reduce course schedule conflicts.

 educational planning diagram

At its core SSFS determined that teaching goal-setting and problem solving skills is fundamental to increased student academic success as seen in increased retention—and ultimately overall increased progression and completion rates.