Washington State University High School Equivalency Program
Peer Evaluation Report
Evaluation Date: May 31 and June 1, 2018
Final Report: June 30, 2018
Prepared by: Amas Aduviri
A complete PDF version of this report can be requested by contacting the Division of Student Affairs via email or call (509) 335-4531.
Since 1972, the Washington State University (WSU) High School Equivalency Program (HEP) has provided General Educational Development (GED) education to migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the state of Washington, as well as surrounding states. In 2014, WSU received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education – Office of Migrant Education Program to provide outreach, recruitment, and instructional and career services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers to attain the GED diploma. The GED test was originally developed in the 1940s for World War II veterans who needed to complete their high school studies and return to civilian life (Tokpah & Padak, 2003). Today, the GED functions primarily as an alternative to a high school diploma for high school dropouts. The GED consists of five required tests in reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies.
Common characteristics of WSU HEP program:
Outreach and Recruitment. WSU HEP provides outreach and recruitment of potential participants in the state of Washington. Most recruitment is done in central Washington where most of the migrant farm workers live. The recruiter spends all year building connections with local school districts and state and community agencies. Heavy follow up to potential students is done in order to meet the numbers of students to be served by the program.
Orientation. The WSU HEP orientations typically last one day (on Mondays) and are intended to help prepare recruited students get acquainted with the program and staff and also learn about the rigors of the program by facilitating group bonding, helping students to develop trust in staff, and emphasizing goal setting and overcoming obstacles. This orientation also provides an opportunity for grantees to assess each student’s readiness to participate fully in the program.
Assessment. During their first year of the grant, WSU HEP administered basic skills tests such as the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) to determine the level of assistance that is needed for the student to attain a GED. Currently, the program uses a math assessment created by the HEP Instructor to determine the math skill level of their participants. In addition, WSU HEP conducts one-on-one interview with the student to collect information on participant goals and barriers and develop individual service strategies or plans.
Educational Activities. Participants are offered educational services for at least five weeks, the time that they are in the program. These educational services lead to a high school diploma or GED and encompass basic skills instruction, remedial education, and bilingual education. Counseling or assistance in attaining post-secondary education and financial aid information is also provided.
Other Services. WSU HEP provides participants with housing, meals, and a modest biweekly stipend for expenses not provided by the program. WSU HEP also offers job development and placement services, including training in resume writing and interviewing.
Methods of Evaluation
For this external peer review evaluation visit, the external peer evaluator used a variety of methods including informal interviews with staff from key partner units, document reviews, and meetings with program staff. WSU HEP provided the external peer evaluator access to all relevant records and set up interviews with appropriate staff.
Student Survey. The external evaluator developed and administered an online survey using Qualtrics to survey current students. The survey asked participants about their motivations for participating in HEP, satisfaction with he program, and some demographic information. Because the HEP class was not in session, no students completed the online survey.
The pages that follows provides a more detailed observation that reflects what the external peer evaluator saw and heard from the various interviewees with whom he met. These elements serve as a prelude to reflect on the program's strengths and recommendations made to at the conclusion of this report.
I. Program Objectives - GPRA Results
- According to the WSU grant proposal, 65 eligible students will be funded and supported by HEP. For the current academic year (Y4), 48 students were enrolled in the program, including persisters from Y3. The program Director allowed the external peer evaluator access to the files of current enrolled students in HEP. For Y3, WSU HEP is below the national target for GPRA I, but GPRA II is met.
- For the 2016-17 academic year, WSU HEP program was funded to serve 65 students; however, the program served 53 students. 25 students attained their GED, 21 withdrew from the program, and 7 students were considered persisters. The expected GPRA I target for this cohort is 43.10%. This measure is calculated by dividing the number of HEP GED attainers (the number of HEP eligible students who successfully attained their GED by the end of the current reporting period) by the total number funded, as per the approved application by OME, or the total number actually served (whichever is greater), minus the number of persisters. Consequently, the program was close to meet the national GPRA I target of 69%. A few main reasons WSU HEP was not able to meet the GPRA I target was due to change in recruitment staff and also the reduction in instruction time reduced from 7 weeks to 5 weeks.
For the 2017-18 academic year, WSU HEP program served 48 students throughout the year in five cohorts. Out of the group several students withdrew from the program. The program hopes that 24 students will attain the GED and 6 students will be counted as persisters. Despite of the number of the students who withdrew from the program, WSU HEP staff expects that the GPRA I target for this cohort will be close to 60%. For the current year, the program will be close to meet the national GPRA I target of 69%.
- For the GPRA II for the 2016-17 academic year 23 students who attained their GED entered postsecondary education or training programs. The GPRA II for this cohort is 92% (Number of students in GPRA I/Number of students who entered in postsecondary education or training programs, upgraded employment, or join the military). Therefore, the program successfully surpasses the national GPRA II target of 80%.
The GPRA II for the 2017-18 academic year cannot be calculated until the reporting deadline in November of 2018. However, given the current number of students enrolled in the program, it can be inferred that the program will successfully meet the GPRA II national target. A rough estimate from HEP staff is that 24 GED attainers will have placed in postsecondary education or training programs, upgraded employment, or join the military. Consequently, the GPRA II being at around 90%
- It’s important to point out that WSU CAMP internal GPRA I target is slightly higher than the national target (81% compared to 85%). For this report, the internal objectives were not used to calculate the program’s GPRA performances.
- GPRA Validation: To validate its GPRA I target, the program keeps track of the names of the students who attained the GED. For GPRA II, the program verifies the placement of students in postsecondary education or training programs, upgraded employment, or join the military in a database system.
II. Program Management
- The WSU HEP program is currently staffed with four staff: program Director, Interim Administrative Coordinator, Instructor, and Recruiter/Outreach Specialist. In addition, the program has hired two tutors and two HEP Resident Advisors. All personnel are hired at 1.0 FTE, 12 months with the exception of the student staff. Normal staff hours are from 8:00am to 5:00pm, Monday to Friday. All full-time staff has offices in the Lighty Student Services building. All core program staff is hired as was approved in the grant proposal and in the budget summary. All program staff job descriptions are kept on file in the Director's office. All staff members demonstrate true commitment and passion for the program and the target population the program serves. All staff members appear to be well qualified for the positions.
- The program Director reports directly to the Executive Director for Access & Opportunity, Lucila Loera, who also is the Principal Investigator for the program. The Executive Director for Access & Opportunity reports to the Vice President for Student Affairs. The organizational department is as stated in the grant proposal. According to the Director, the Vice President of Student Affairs is supportive of the program.
- As mentioned in previous pages, the HEP program is located in the Lighty Student Services building. Some of the HEP workshops are held in meeting rooms in Lighty, as well as in the computer lab in the suite. The program’s instructional services are provided in a classroom in the Owen Science Library.
- All core program staff is hired as was approved in the grant proposal and in the revised budget summary. All program staff job descriptions are kept on file in the program Director's office. All staff members appear to be qualified for their positions
Outreach and Recruitment
- The HEP Recruiter/Outreach Specialist is the newest member of the team. The Recruiter appears to know the areas of recruitment well as he was well trained by the previous recruiter. The HEP Recruiter/Outreach Specialist also knows well the target population well as he was previously employed with the Washington state Migrant Education Program. He has quickly learned about the grant and recruitment strategies and appears to be successful in his recruitment efforts for the program.
- The HEP program recruitment effort, as stated in the grant proposal, focuses primarily in central Washington where most of farm workers work. These areas include the Tri Cities area, Toppenish, Yakima, Wapato, Grandview, Granger, Sunnyside, Mattawa, and the Wenatchee area. The Recruiter/Outreach Specialist knows well the communities where he does recruiting well, and he can visit each area multiple times because his work base is near these potential eligible participants.
- The number of students served for this evaluation period (2017-18) is 48 students. According to the grant proposal, the goal is to serve 65 students each year. During this fiscal year, the program is achieving the number of participants to be served when those from the previous year are included in the final list. In 2016-17, the program did not meet its approved number of participants to be served (53 students served). One of the main reasons for not meeting the number of students to be served was in part due to hiring a new recruiter. Like in many institutions of higher education, the process of hiring program staff is not fast enough due to institution’s hiring process.
- As of the peer evaluation date, the program has accepted 15 students for fiscal year 2018-19 starting in fall semester. HEP staff is concerned that it may not be able to meet the number of students to be served during the last year of the grant cycle. However, the program Recruiter is optimistic to meet the number of students to be served in 2018-19.
- According to the program Director, there position of the HEP Advisor has not been posted after the last person who worked in this position. The main reason for not posting the HEP Advisor position is due rising costs of room and board to run the program. Otherwise, it would be difficult to fulfill the requirements of the grant.
- The program Director provides academic advising while the students are in the program and meets with all participants to discuss their academic progress and student services on a regular basis. One of the main tasks is to place students in postsecondary education or training programs, upgraded employment, or join the military after they attain their GED.
- Another important component is that students receive tutoring after the instruction hours. Two tutors provide the tutoring service and it appears is mandatory for HEP participants. Most of the tutoring is done in the residence halls.
- Currently, the program has one main Instructor who teaches all the GED subjects. Most of the instruction focuses on math and writing, with a reduced amount of instruction days for science and social studies. Potential students are assessed in math prior to coming to WSU. If the student gets the minimum score, then they are encouraged to apply for HEP. The HEP Recruiter provides the score information directly to the student.
- The HEP Instructor has an average of five weeks to teach all GED core subjects. Therefore, the instruction is intense and strategic in a sense to teach what students need to pass the exams. For the amount of instruction time, the passing rate of the students is significant given that on average 50% of each cohort attains a GED in five weeks of instructions. Students who do not pass the exams are supported by the WSU HEP staff to take their missing exams in testing centers near where they live.
- Another fact worth pointing out is that according to the HEP Instructor, there is an average of 7% increase in learning impact assessment within the five weeks of instruction. This increase in learning impact is significant because of the short instruction time for HEP students.
- WSU is fulfilling their commitment as written in the grant proposal about providing office space for the program. WSU provides office space for WSU HEP staff and students. All office space is furnished and includes sufficient space for tutoring, a computer lab, a classroom, and rooms in the residence halls.
- WSU has established processes to support the financial management of the grant through the Office of Sponsored Program. This office through a liaison works closely with the program Director and the Interim Administrative Coordinator to manage the budget. Monthly budget expenditure reports are provided to the program for reconciliation. It appears there is great relationship between the HEP staff and the budget office.
- The grant proposal indicates that residential housing will be available for HEP participants. It seems that WSU residential housing operates at capacity and during the winter and summer breaks, some university services such as the cafeteria are not available to HEP students. Often the program has to make food purchases outside the institution’s food service. The external peer evaluator suggests the program Director and Residential Housing and/or Food Services Director to work on a plan where food is available to HEP students when the HEP classes are running but campus is closed.
- Besides connecting with community and schools, it appears WSU HEP has collaborated with other organizations that provide services to migrant communities, such as the Migrant Student Data & Recruitment Office, Washington State Migrant Council, Opportunities Industrialization Center, Latino Education Achievement Project SEAMAR including regional MEP programs. Most of these collaboration partners support HEP through referral, dissemination of HEP contacts and information, inviting HEP to local events, etc.
- The program Director has been working tirelessly to ensure coordination and collaboration is in place. She has been very successful connecting with some units on campus and outside agencies. It appears there is a need to develop a strong collaboration with the eligible potential HEP students in the Native American population, such as the Nez Perce Tribe, which appears to have the largest fisheries program of any tribe in the U.S. The external peer evaluator suggests making an effort to coordinate those efforts with the Nez Perce Tribe or other tribes in the area.
III. Student File Review
With the permission of the Interim Program Coordinator, seven participants files were randomly selected for review. Every seventh student file starting with the seventh file (7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42 and 49th) was selected to perform the participant file review.
- The student file is divided into sections that contains documents such as application and eligibility, information on services provided to participants and all forms relate to the services and activities including documentation for student to take the GED exams.
- The program's student files are located in the Interim Administrative Coordinator space area. The files are easy to browse through. The student files appear to be organized and appear to provide complete demographic information, student progress, an award letter, and copy of student eligibility documentation. The external peer evaluator would like to suggest keeping the files in an office where the door can be locked as well as the cabinet where files are maintained.
- It appears all of the students met the eligibility requirements for the program. Five students received eligibility under the MEP eligibility guidelines and thus, a copy of the qualifying COE was included in the student file to attest to student eligibility. Two students met eligibility through the seasonal eligibility guidelines. The amount of days worked in seasonal work for the five students ranged from the minimum 75 to 365 days, consequently, all five students/family worked more than the minimum 75 days. All supporting documentation was included for these five students. The external peer evaluator would like to suggest staff randomly verify the necessary eligibility documentation for these eligible HEP students.
IV. Financial Management
The external evaluator met with the PI, program Director and the Student Affairs budget staff to discuss the program finance expenditures and also briefly looked at the financial binder that contained all the expenditures for the FY18.
- The Office of Sponsored Programs and the Student Affairs Business Office monitors the HEP grant expenditures among other federal grants. The process for creating POs and other related purchases is systematic and all offices seem to work well. If there are any questions about expenditures, the Interim Program Coordinator is able to contact other offices for more clarification and guidance. It appears the Director and the Business Office meet on a regular basis or at least there is a communication between both offices.
- The Student Affairs Business Office provides monthly reports to the Director and the Program Coordinator on grant expenditures. The program appears to have a small carryover balance for next 2018-19 FY. No internal financial audits were performed on the program during this peer review evaluation period, and there is a clear open communication between the Business Office and the budget authority.
- It is clear there are several tier of expenditure controls to ensure grant funds are being expended under federal and state procedures and regulations. For example, there are different steps and cross checking before a check payment is being sent out to participants and vendors.
V. Recommendations From 2016 Report:
The WSU HEP program was able to implement most of the suggestions given during from the last peer review report. Below are the comments for each of the recommendations made in 2016.
- As the project is being implemented, project staff should revisit and discuss the main objectives of the grant proposal. As a result, all staff members will be aware of the goals and objectives of the grant and the activities needed to reach and fulfill the objectives set in the grant proposal. Project staff should continue to meet regularly to discuss student services and program priorities. In addition, the project should organize a staff retreat in the summer to work on program development, plan activities, work on the timeline for the project, and continue to become more knowledgeable about the grant's goals and objectives
Implementation: Most of the current WSU HEP staff was part of the staff back in 2016 with the exception of the newly hired recruiter. HEP staff is aware of the goals and objectives of the grant and they know what their priorities of the program. The current HEP Recruiter is new to the program but is aware of the grant goals and objectives.
- It appears the program’s GPRA I target for FY16 falls short of the target goal of 71 percent mainly because fewer served students are attaining GED. To ensure the GPRA target is met, the following suggestions may be considered:
- Develop a systematic retention management assessment plan to identify students who are at risk of dropout proneness or that are not ready to attain their GED in a short period of time (7 weeks).
- Perhaps increase the length of the school session to 10-12 weeks of instruction. Consequently, teachers will have more classroom time to teach students and students will feel more prepared to take the GED exam.
- The project perhaps should consider setting a cut-off score in order for students to enroll in the project. This practice may work well if there are many students trying to get in the project.
- Continue to follow up with those students who withdraw or failed to pass the GED test, in hopes they return for the following session and pass the test. The Recruiter perhaps can perform the outreach to the students.
Implementation: Section a and b was difficult to implement due to the availability of dining services and also due to the cost of hosting students on campus for longer period of time. However, the program has an assessment for prospective students to take and depending the math score are invited to complete the application for the program. In addition, program staff (teacher) does follow up with students who may have missing one or two exams to complete their GED. Program staff helps students complete their exam appointments closer to where students live.
- The project doesn’t have a systematic approach to assess or evaluate activities being implemented outside of this first external evaluator's report. The project should implement some type of overall evaluation of at least some of the key activities, as well as student satisfaction feedback via online or a focus group. The project should explore other alternatives to assess some of their activities as they are delivered. For example, a short survey can be developed to assess the implementation of the recruitment, advising, instruction, etc.
Implementation: The program continues to develop ways to assess the services it provides to their students.
- It is recommended that the data tracking system be reviewed for the purpose of student participation and delivery of services, and for reporting purposes. Because the project does not completely relate to higher education and most of the needed information cannot be added in the University’s system, staff should consider developing a database system aligns the need of project data information.
Implementation: WSU HEP uses a StudentAccess, a database similar to what is currently used in the TRIO programs. The implementation of a database system was asked for by OME during their onsite monitoring visit.
- As part of their professional development, all staff should consider visiting another successful HEP project to observe, learn best practices to serve the target population. Additionally, all project staff should attend the HEP CAMP Conference in Sacramento, CA and other relevant conferences related to their area of work.
Implementation: HEP program staff spent some time visiting another HEP residential institution in Tampa. The visit provided them some insights to run a successful program. One of the practices at USF is classes are run in English, consequently, students are passing the exams are higher rates compared at WSU where some cohorts are taught in Spanish and English. Also, program staff attend various conferences related to GED as well as at training on bias on campus.
- Most of the HEP students spend their time in the classroom for instruction. The project is not able to find a permanent classroom space for only HEP students. Space is always difficult to find in IHEs, but if the project is able to secure a permanent space, then teachers could provide a more consistent instruction throughout the year.
Implementation: The program did have a classroom assigned for HEP instruction. The classroom is located in the Owen Science Library building. It’s expected the building to be renovated maybe next year. Then, the program will have to find another location while the building is being renovated.
- The external evaluator did not revise student files. However, if not done, after the student is enrolled in the project, and all eligibility requirements are met by each student, the Project Director or an appointed staff, not the Recruiter, should randomly select files to verify the eligibility of those students selected for verification. This should be noted in the student files. This practice should be consistently done every year.
Implementation: The files were revised during this visit. Comments are in the file revision section.
- The focus group and the online survey show that participants would like to have more group activities during the weekends. These activities can lead to more interaction among them and perhaps avoid some behavior issues, if any within the residence halls.
Implementation: Hired RAs are responsible for providing group activities during the weekends. Some of the activities done this year were movie night, cooking meals together and other activities.
- All students see the importance of the instructional classes in order to attain the GED diploma. It appears students get completely focused on their classes and homework. Few students understand the need to also work on the career related workshops, which ultimately would provide them with important information after attaining their GED diploma. This is also important for the project’s GPRA II. Project staff should find ways to inform students that while passing the GED exam is a priority, also getting an upgraded employment or being admitted to trade school, or a two and four-year institution of higher education is important.
Implementation: The program director helps students advising on potential careers and options after they earned their GED. Many students have chosen to attend community colleges and others received upgraded employment. The director invites other WSU staff to present workshops related to career and other opportunities.
- Program Recruiter sees the importance to continue outreach to the Native American migrant population. The grant narrative includes the outreach and recruitment of this group due to a large number of migrant workers in the target area of service. The project should continue to build the relationship with organizations, agencies and communities in order to be able to recruit students from Native American population.
Implementation: The outreach to the Native American migrant population continues to be deficient despite of an increase of Native Americans being enrolled in HEP. Building a strong relationship with the Native American community takes time and effort. The program will continue to work with this population.
VI. Summary of Strengths and Recommendations
- The WSU HEP program continues to provide a welcoming family environment for their participants and all HEP personnel seem very passionate about their work and all of them value the program and the impact it has on the students.
- HEP staff is well aware of their roles and responsibilities within the program. The external peer reviewer didn’t interview the tutors and the residence assistants, but other staff mentioned that they care about HEP students and they’ve shown a genuine interest to help the HEP students.
- Professional development continues to be encouraged for staff to participate in a national or regional conference as well as to attend professional development on campus.
- The WSU HEP program has developed a comprehensive Student Handbook. The Students Handbook is extensive and provides relevant information from student responsibilities and expectations, testing, policies on use of the lab, living on campus, campus resources and programs, etc.
- The program has the ability to attain on average of 50% passing rate for each of the cohort. This is commendable because the 50% rate is attained with an instructional service of five weeks. Also, students continue to be enrolled in the program despite having lower assessment scores.
- The HEP Recruiter has the ability to connect with the community and organizations that provide services to this target population. These connections and collaborations are important for the program to attain its goals and objectives.
- The program’s GPRA I target for FY18 continues to fall short of the national target goal of 69%. It appears one of the main reasons for not meeting the target goal is due to the short instruction time students get when they arrive to WSU campus. WSU HEP is not able to sustain long period of instruction due to the increasing costs of lodging and meals. One strategy to attain the GPRA I goal is by providing instruction to participants who have higher math scores in their assessments. However, in order to implement that strategy, the program should have a bigger pool of potential students recruited for the program. Also, continue to help students who need one or two to exams to get attain a GED certificate.
- The program should continue to update the student files. Also, assess the types of information that needs to be included in each of the files. Especially ensure the eligibility under the 75 days is complete demonstrating the qualifying student meets the eligibility under that specific criteria. It’s a good practice for the program Director or an appointed staff, not the Recruiter, to randomly select files to verify the eligibility of those students selected for verification.
- The external peer evaluator suggests including in the contract form, a space for the student to sign and date the contract form. Another suggestion is to include the class schedules, awards letters, assessment scores, other information of services provided to students, and perhaps a copy of the GED diploma.
- The program should continue with the practice to reconcile all monthly expenses against the receipts and/or invoices for each specific month. Perhaps, the program should create a binder where the monthly expense report and receipts/invoices are attached accordingly.
- It appears the state of Washington, in an effort to increase graduation rates, has created the state’s Option program (Open Doors) for students enrolled in secondary education. The creation of this program, in some ways, may make recruiting students for the residential HEP difficult since many students may choose to complete their secondary diploma in their schools through the Options program. HEP personnel should discuss creative ways to bring eligible students to their residential program.
- The HEP Recruiter or other HEP personnel should continue to build the relationship with organizations, agencies and communities in order to be able to recruit students from Native American population.
VI. Grant Proposal for 2019
The upcoming FY is the last year of the grant five-year cycle. The WSU HEP program is considering whether to apply or not. Nevertheless, should the institution plan to submit a grant proposal, I suggest the following:
- Reduce the number of students to be served from 65 to 40-45 students. Forty students seem a reasonable number for a residential program. By serving less students, the instructional weeks can be increased as the room and board costs is less compared to serving more students. Also, lower numbers to be served facilitates the recruitment efforts.
- Keep the minimum national GPRA targets: 69% for GPRA I, and 80% for GPRA II. Very few HEP programs in the country have set their program targets above the national targets.
- Ask for the full amount of funding for each of the five years: $475,000.
- Keep the “evidence-based projects” simple for the evaluation section. No need to complicate this section. Keep in mind that if for some reason, the program is chosen for a site visit, the institution/program will have to respond for the activities included in the proposal.
- Due to the potential size of the program, the staff could be comprised by four full-time members: program Director, main HEP Instructor, Recruiter and the Administrative Coordinator.
- No need to include those activities that were not implemented or were difficult to implement during the last five years. Instead add those who worked well and helped students in the program.
- Perhaps include in the proposal a satellite component where a small program can be housed in an area where potential students can commute daily or in the evenings. Some factors when considering a satellite program are: staffing (teacher/instructor), location (facilities), face to face versus online instruction, duration of the program, potential MoUs, etc.
- An important factor to consider for applying for a full residential program is the actual costs plus the inflation of the room and boarding expenses. For residential HEP programs, room and board are the second largest expense after the salaries and fringe benefits.
Based on the interviews and the onsite visit I believe that the program has been effective in many of the program activities. It appears the WSU HEP program has a support from the institution, great students who are eligible for the program, and the program is meeting or exceeding some of their grant goals and objectives. I believe if the program had more instructional weeks, the GPRA I objective could be attained. Most of the activities being implemented are enhancing the overall outreach/recruitment and student instructional and supportive services to all participants. Overall, the program has improved the student services, and the staff is satisfied with the outcomes and where the program is headed.