Over the past five years, San Juan College (SJC) has created a 143% increase in our graduation rates. This remarkable achievement came about by a campus wide concerted effort to address the national issue of low Community College graduation rates. Several initiatives fed into this dramatic increase, but one can reasonably argue that instituting a mandatory Student Success class based on the On Course curriculum is a primary driver.

In July 2012 Dr. Toni Pendergrass took over the Presidency of San Juan College, located in Farmington, NM. She led several new strategic initiatives, the first of which called for the creation of a mandatory student success class using the On Course curriculum. We called this course LRNS 111: Student Success and launched it during the Fall 2013 semester.

LRNS 111: Student Success is now mandatory for all students who take at least one developmental course, and it must be taken during their first 12 credit hours. At SJC that is approximately 85% of our students.

In total, we offer approximately 80 sections a year. There are two full-time faculty teaching the course: Professor Chris Strouthopoulos and Assistant Professor Sherri Cummins. They oversee a large array of adjunct faculty and other full-time faculty who teach the course as an overload. A large percentage of that additional full-time faculty come from the English department, where LRNS 111 is paired with the developmental level ENGL 095 to create a 6 credit course.

In order to ensure quality course offers we focus on intensive training for Instructors. We have brought Skip Downing and Eileen Zamora to campus to facilitate On Course I Workshop trainings. In addition, all LRNS 111 Instructors must participate in an annual two-day in-house training in the latest On Course principles and active learner teaching strategies. Professors Strouthopoulos and Cummins lead these trainings, and to stay current in the field they regularly attend and present at the annual On Course National Conference.

Finally, Dr. Pendergrass advocates for the On Course principles to be adopted campus wide so staff and administration can benefit. Thus, Professors Strouthopoulos and Cummins have organized and led multiple On Course trainings for employees. These range from all employee presentations during Convocation week to targeted trainings for specific groups such as the Tutoring Center and Business Office. Even the College Council and President’s Executive Leadership Team are involved, and participated in an intensive two-day On Course principles training.

In short, our campus has a commit to On Course at all levels of the organization.


  • 42 sections of LRNS 111 are offered in the current semester, Fall 2017. This includes face-to-face, hybrid, fully online, High School Dual Credit, and honors versions.
  • Students who took the LRNS 111 in the Fall 2014 semester were 15.4% more likely than their counterparts to persist into the Spring semester and earned a half letter higher average GPA (.58).
  • As of Spring 2017 our campus wide Fall-to-Fall retention has increased to 62%, up by 10%.
  • As of Spring 2017 STEM-H graduation rates are up by 96%, the highest increase in our state.
  • SJC is now 1st in the nation for issuing certificates to Native American Students and 2nd in the nation for granting Associates degrees to Native American students.
  • Since launching the LRNS 111 class our graduation rate has increased 143%. See chart below. It is quite interesting that we started the LRNS 111 course in Fall 2013, and two years later when those students began graduating is when the rate began soaring.

LRNS 111 is by no means the only initiative undertaken at SJC over the past five years. A dramatic graduation rate change like this truly requires a village. Here is an incomplete list of other initiatives undertaken:

  • Streamlining English developmental education by using a co-requisite model
  • Instituted Math Pathways
  • Increased more intrusive advising by the Advising and Counseling Center
  • Received Kellogg Center for Working Families Grant and Student Achievement Center expansion
  • Increased percentages of students receiving Pell Grants and financial aid packages

These numbers are remarkable in a number of ways. They show that there are solutions to the national trend of low Community College graduation rates. It is our belief that On Course’s unique holistic approach is a critical part of this solution. More importantly, this data is incredibly empowering. After all, every student who graduates is a life transformed. And, that transformation often trickles down to family members and friends who become inspired to try college and improve their lives.