Staying true to its own principles to follow the data wherever they may lead, ATD put itself to the test, determining how it could use the findings to advance its work and become more effective.
ATD leaders knew they had to extend their work with institutions beyond the relatively narrow focus on data and leadership. They concluded that improving student outcomes had to be less about executing and learning from small projects, such as improving success courses, and more about practices applied broadly to keep more students in college by involving all faculty and staff in institution-wide transformation. Hearing what colleges were saying about their need for more guidance and pathways support, ATD expanded the extremely popular coaching services and used this valuable resource to forge in a new direction.
As ATD entered a new chapter of its development as a national reform organization, the board of directors sought to bring in an accomplished institutional change agent who could identify what challenges colleges were facing, guide development of an updated approach to improvement, and deliver deeper and more customized direction to institutions. In 2015, it appointed Dr. Karen A. Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College (PA), a leader in institutional transformation for student success, as the second president and CEO of the organization. In 2014, MCCC received the Leah Meyer Austin Award, the top national award for colleges in the ATD Network, for its work to improve student outcomes in developmental courses, support students of color, and use data to make informed decisions about teaching and learning. Dr. Stout brought deep experience leading successful community college redesign, advocacy, and fundraising work to ATD.
During her first months as the organization’s new leader, Dr. Stout spent time on campuses of colleges in the ATD Network, meeting with leaders and exploring their needs. This “listening tour” gave Dr. Stout and her team an understanding of what challenges colleges in the network are facing, and how they are attempting to work through them. Using this knowledge, the leadership team began revising and rebuilding programs and services with a focus on attracting larger cohorts of new colleges.
Under Dr. Stout’s leadership, ATD has made a concerted effort to further diversify the college network, focusing in particular on small and rural institutions and two- and four-year colleges that serve large percentages of low-income students and students of color. Since 2015, ATD has continued to add large numbers of colleges to its growing national network, including 34 tribal colleges and universities, with each cohort growing in size and diversity of institutions.
Using what Dr. Stout learned from her time with the network and understanding the changes in the greater higher education landscape, ATD refined, pilot tested, and ultimately launched a new capacity framework, championing a strengthened commitment to teaching and learning and non-academic supports, reinvigorating network recruitment, and launching a new strategic direction.