How would you describe your students/student body?
We have a huge amount of diversity. We have people from 16 – 90 years old and from every socioeconomic background – from marginalized communities to affluent communities – partly due to the proximity to LA and the beach. We have people from all over the world and all over the country who come to study at SMC and that’s a little unusual for a community college to have such a large domestic out-of-state population. But because of our transfer rate and the support services we provide, students seek us out.

To use the vernacular “woke,” our students are really engaged and looking to be engaged. Our students seek out leadership opportunities, which we provide through clubs and student life programs. They want to be engaged in class and are very engaged on campus; demanding change when they see the need for it. They advocate for themselves and their community, particularly in areas of equity and environment, and we see that on campus. For example, we have an organic learning garden on campus that was built by our students. It was something they thought we needed so they took the initiative to build it as an extracurricular program. It was completely funded by ASB fees and was a grass roots project that has been going strong for many years now.

What are SMC’s identifying characteristic(s)?
SMC has the highest rate of transfer to California universities of any college in the country, and has been the titleholder for the past 28 years. We’ve held on to that notoriety because of the support services on our campus. We have over 55 different counseling and support programs with more counselors providing support to our students than any other community college in the state. We offer intrusive advising to monitor students; we don’t rely on them to tell us how they’re doing, we look for it proactively and reach out through faculty to check in and provide support. We have eight different tutoring centers, and support programs for personal issues including free food for students in need. We want to provide a supportive environment and be a partner in each student’s success.

We have students from over 100 different countries, but right now our largest population is from China and it has been for the last 8-10 years. We also have large populations from Sweden and Japan as well as Indonesia and South Korea. Students are coming because of our reputation; because of the engagement we offer. We have a lot of facilities on the campus for hands-on experiences like traditional computer and science labs as well as costume and set design. Because we’re a community college, all of that hands-on experience is open to freshmen. We have very strong relationships in the business community, and we’re close to the Los Angeles financial district, fashion district, Hollywood, Silicon Beach, and have a world-class medical environment. Because of those relationships, we’re able to connect our students with internship opportunities, and also with educational field trips, so they get a really good idea of different career opportunities available to them, and hands-on experience. Many students take advantage of internships both during their education and after they graduate to feel secure in their career choice.

SMC felt like a university campus when I started because of the engagement and cooperation between departments to support students and strengthen programs. It’s just a special place to be.

Notable qualities/amenities?
Another area that makes SMC attractive to students is our faculty. We have professors from all around the world who seek out opportunities at SMC. They know as community college professors, they are not required to do research, but they do because they’re engaged in their fields and they’re passionate about what they studied. Many of our professors do independent research and include our students, so our students are getting that research experience as well.

While we’re proud of our reputation, we don’t rest on our laurels ever. We’re always reaching back out to students to see what they need. We take feedback very seriously, and are constantly tweaking the way we do things. It makes SMC a really exciting place.

How do you use iTEP testing?
We partnered with iTEP at the very beginning in 2010. I don’t think iTEP had even been around a year yet. Their very first test was still under development.

We use the Academic test as part of the application process. Foreign students need to prove a certain level of English proficiency before they can be admitted into our academic program and iTEP is one of the options they have to show that.

We have over 4,000 applicants a year, and we have been using iTEP increasingly recently because iTEP is being offered at home. This has been a great opportunity for us to introduce students to iTEP because other English language proficiency exam programs haven’t been available. Our experience is that iTEP has given us a more accurate picture of the student’s English abilities than some other tests that have been around longer. The students are so glad they have a safe option and something available all around the world. It’s been easy and affordable for them.

Why did you choose iTEP exams?
When they walked me through the test, one of the things that stood out for me was the content of the test changed so a student wasn’t going to see the exact same test again. This helps us see the student’s real English ability. Students are so anxious to place at a high level, but what we want is to place them at the right level so they gain the instruction and support where they need it most.

Additionally, the test wasn’t just black and white grammar on a screen. It was designed to truly test for the ability to listen and understand English. A lot of tests don’t have a listening component or require the student to produce English like iTEP. I like the essay portion as well, which is missing from a lot of tests. I think it gives us a more holistic picture of the student’s English ability and ability to be successful in college level classes.
What do you foresee over the next 12-24 months for institutions like yours?

Flexibility. For the spring semester, we’ll be offering a couple of hybrid options. We have some hybrid classes available to our first-year students as well as nursing and the respiratory therapy programs.

We have about 700 students, or about 25 percent, who are studying from abroad right now. It’s going better than we expected. The feedback we’re getting from students at this early stage is that it’s going even better than last semester. Professors are figuring out better how to teach remotely; they worked really hard this summer to improve their classes and make them more user-friendly for the students. And I think the students are figuring it out too. A lot of classes are asynchronous so students have to be able to get onto class and do the work, do the homework and reach out for help when they need it. But even in this remote environment, we’re still offering proactive support services to give students opportunities to connect and engage with us even outside the classroom.

How can iTEP assist?
Honestly the fact that iTEP went remote so quickly and came up with an at-home model so quickly has been the greatest help. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recommend iTEP to our applicants because I know it’s easy to take. Moving forward, it will be increasingly important to make sure the test is secure and that students can’t cheat. There are other tests out there that have at-home testing ability, which we found are not very secure. iTEP has been very proactive to ensure the student is doing their own work and that we’re getting accurate results.

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