College Excellence Program

College of the Ouachitas


It is strange to Donna Hill, vice president of student affairs at College of the Ouachitas, that at other schools, staff members don’t know every student’s name. At COTO—a small, tight-knit community with a long history of what administrators jokingly call “In Your Business” advising—they don’t just know the names of their students, but also their strengths, their needs, their children’s names.

Conversations about students “happen constantly on this campus,” Hill says. Faculty report to student services not just when students slip academically, but when they are texting or sleeping in class. Students then must meet with an adviser to draw up a plan for success.

                                                                Photo courtesy of the College of the Ouachitas


Teaching through Collaboration

COTO’s student focus is driven by structures and practice. Faculty instruction is unusually collaborative. Professors teaching the same course may track their pacing throughout the semester, or team-teach so that each can cover the material she’s strongest in. Teachers in one phase of a course sequence meet with those from the next phase to ensure students are learning what they need to. Even COTO’s vice presidents take part—all of them teach classes regularly. (The vice president of finance, before talking about the budget, will tell you his strategies for student engagement in his courses.)

Photo courtesy of the College of the OuachitasHelping Students Obtain Jobs

In an area of limited economic opportunity, COTO pays attention not just to its students but to their future bosses. An AT&T call center recently opened nearby because of the college’s proven ability to train workers. Based on the needs of several area plants, the college is developing an innovative mechatronics degree. And COTO officials reached out to local manufacturer Flakeboard, sparking a multiyear relationship, at a time company leaders couldn’t line up even a 30-minute conversation with a college near one of its other plants. Michael Gilsinger of Flakeboard finds COTO unusually flexible. “We’re partnering up with other community colleges in other parts of the country,” he says, “and haven’t really had the same level of success.”