Amarillo College and Columbus State Community College Receive Leah Meyer Austin Award Two outstanding ATD Network colleges, Amarillo College and Columbus State Community College, received the Leah Meyer Austin Award, the organization’s highest recognition for achievement. The national award is presented annually at ATD’s DREAM convening and recognizes institutions that have demonstrated outstanding progress in designing a student-focused culture and aligning institutional strategies to promote student success.
Through a data summit for faculty and staff and student focus groups, Amarillo College learned that poverty was the most significant barrier to student success. The college responded by launching #ACcultureofcaring, embracing holistic systems change by integrating accelerated learning, predictive analytics and wraparound social services. As a result of the changes it implemented, Amarillo College saw an uptick of 9 percentage points in its three-year graduation rate from 13 percent to 22 percent.
Columbus State’s transformative work reflects Achieving the Dream’s vision of community colleges as crucial, lifelong sources of civic and economic wellbeing for individuals, their families, and their communities. Prior to joining Achieving the Dream in 2012, Columbus State was a data-poor institution, according to President Dr. David Harrison. After gaining a better understanding of the needs of their students, they created four student success priorities: closing equity gaps, increasing rates of course success, increasing student retention, and increasing program completion. Through increased data capacity they were able to meet more student needs by introducing 50 holistic student support interventions, all with evaluation plans and data about their outcomes available to all college employees. Columbus State Community College quickly made significant gains in key metrics. Read full stories about these colleges here.
In April, two ATD Network colleges, Indian River State College and Miami Dade College, were named the co-winners of the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The $1 million Aspen Prize, awarded every two years, is the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges. The Aspen Prize recognizes outstanding student outcomes in four categories that include student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and access and success for minority and low-income students. In addition to the co-winners in 2019, three network colleges – Palo Alto College (Alamo Colleges), San Jacinto College, and Pierce College – were named Rising Stars by Aspen in previous years. The other four finalists from the ATD network – Broward College, Kingsborough Community College, Odessa College, and Pierce College at Fort Steilacoom – were lauded for the considerable strides made in their work, which closely aligns to ATD core areas.
In February, Achieving the Dream announced its first cohort of 11 Leader Colleges of Distinction. The metrics ATD established for Leader College of Distinction are meant to encourage colleges to sustain accelerated efforts that result in far greater student success and equity. The honor recognizes Network colleges that have demonstrated measurable improvements over time and seen real improvements in student achievement across the institution.
At Achieving the Dream’s 2019 Holistic Student Supports Institute, Amarillo College, ATD’s 2019 Leah Meyer Austin Award winner, presented a workshop on the college’s Culture of Caring Poverty Initiative. The presentation culminated a remarkable journey for the college, which reduced significant equity gaps in student achievement by employing a holistic approach.
Amarillo College began its experience with ATD as part of the 2011 cohort of new ATD Network colleges. At that time, more than half of its students lived in poverty, 61 percent needed developmental education classes to become prepared to do college-level work, and 71 percent could attend only part time because of work and family demands. Three-year graduation rates for Black and Hispanic students, as well as first-generation students, significantly lagged behind their peers.
Before working with ATD, Amarillo collected a considerable amount of data, according to Cara Crowley, vice president of strategic initiatives at Amarillo. The college didn’t always use the data in strategic ways, however. Through intensive work with its ATD data coach, Amarillo College was finally able to use its data to understand who it was as an institution and, more importantly, who the institution was serving. With a stronger grasp on student needs, Amarillo worked on a student-centered design that maximized limited resources in support of student success and equity at scale.
The college used its data to address poverty, the issue students identified as the most significant barrier to their success, introducing predictive analytics to understand trends in student performance and identify where crucial improvements needed to be made. It redesigned developmental education to accelerate student progress and improve retention. Working with community partners, it created a suite of supports that includes a campus food pantry, legal aid clinic, career services, emergency funding for utility bills, community partnerships to improve local transportation and childcare options for students, all with an eye toward eliminating poverty barriers. The results have been significant, as Amarillo College experienced considerable gains in graduation rates among all students and key subpopulations.
The college nearly doubled its three-year graduation rate from 13 percent for the fall 2011 cohort to 22 percent for the fall 2015 cohort. During the same period, three-year graduation rates for Black students increased fivefold, from 4 percent to 20 percent. For Hispanic students, rates moved from 15 percent to 22 percent; for first-generation students, from 12 percent to 21 percent; and for students receiving Pell Grants, from 14 percent to 23 percent. All student groups are now graduating at similar rates.
By understanding its data and acting on it through supports for its students, Amarillo College was able to fully eliminate graduation gaps.
In recalling her work with the college’s ATD data coach, Crowley says, “We couldn’t have done what we did without them. We had an awakening around the reality of our data and student success.” At the ATD Holistic Student Supports Institute in Chicago, Crowley and Jordan Herrera, Amarillo Colleges’ Director of Social Services, shared the learning around implementation of Amarillo’s campus-based Culture of Poverty Institute, taking attendees on the college’s journey of self-discovery and transformation in how it supports students.
When asked about her advice for colleges considering applying to Achieving the Dream, Crowley stated, “If you’re willing to take that step and join ATD, then you’re willing to recognize that your institution needs to make some changes. Ideas introduced to me through people I’ve met through Achieving the Dream are consistently brought back to our institution and implemented. [Joining Achieving the Dream] will be profound for them as an institution, and most importantly it will impact its students and community in a positive way.” Through our work with hundreds of institutions, ATD has discovered that holistic student supports are critical to getting and keeping students on a path to academic and career success. Amarillo College exemplifies how using this approach can translate into success.
ATD continued to support 39 Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) through Project Success, supported by a number of partners. As part of Project Success, TCUs generated important momentum around using data and strengthening overall student success. Through the use of their institutional capacity assessment (ICAT) results, ATD coaching, and participation in ATD events and community of practice, TCUs made progress in better understanding the uses of data to inform strategy and building their internal capacity. They have learned what questions data can help them answer about their students, who needs access to data, effective ways to disseminate data and educate faculty and staff on the use of data and engage them in conversations around data. With support from ATD coaches, many TCUs have expanded their institutional research (IR) capacity, through professional development for existing staff or hiring new staff. While only 19 TCUs were reporting data to the National Student Clearinghouse at the start of Project Success, almost all the participating colleges are not reporting to the NSC. Doing so will enable our partners, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) and American Indian College Fund (AICF), to develop a research agenda for TCUs.
Attending ATD events such as the annual DREAM conference and ATD’s Data and Analytics Summit have also been instrumental in building TCU capacity, both in understanding and using data to tell their story and in understanding reforms that can help increase student persistence. TCUs have also begun to implement important evidence-based reforms that help increase student persistence and completion. Some have implemented multiple measures of student assessment or altered cutoff scores. Others have implemented cocurricular supports and/or implemented early alert systems. Several have taken action to improve one or more areas of the student experience using their CCCSE/SENSE data. Most have made efforts toward eliminating departmental silos in order to foster a stronger environment for collaboration on student success.
During the opening plenary at DREAM 2019, more than 2,000 people joined us in the Long Beach Convention Center where we recognized the contributions of the ATD community, from our founding to the present. We shined a bright light on individuals and groups who selflessly share talent, time, resources, and energy to build and grow Achieving the Dream, including current and former board members, ATD coaches, partners, funders, Leah Meyer Austin award winners, and colleges that comprised the very first cohort of colleges. We published a special report, Achieving the Dream at 15, and invite to read about how we started and where we’re going.