BLOG: Texarkana College Dramatically Increases Graduation Rates for Black Students and First-Time, Full-Time Students


Texarkana College serves more than 5,600 students; 64 percent are White, 20 percent are Black, and 7 percent are Latino. One-third of students attend full-time. Nearly three-fourths of students (69 percent) are 24 or younger. Approximately 40 percent of students receive Pell grants. Among first-time, full-time students, the proportion of Pell grant recipients rises to 65 percent.

In 2011, Texarkana College was on the brink of closure because of declining state and local funding, extremely low graduation rates and developmental education course completion rates, and sanctions from its accrediting agency. However, just six years later, the college had increased its graduation rates for Black students by 18 percentage points and first-time, full-time students by 21 percentage points.

What changed? And how?

Texarkana Revamps Everything to Increase Student Success
To sweep away the issues that were keeping student success rates low, Texarkana College began an institution-wide change process. It began with the appointment of a new leadership team and an institutional commitment to evidence-based decision making, part of a holistic change model the team learned from their work with Achieving the Dream. The college, which became part of the ATD Network in 2010, developed a comprehensive plan to improve student persistence and success, and it became a rallying point for faculty and staff. The college called the new vision for student success Connect: Start Smart, Finish Strong.

Texarkana then proceeded to change virtually everything about the student experience. The college designed a robust first-year experience that included a designated faculty advisor and a structured pathway tool to help guide students through their academic programs. A new policy ensured that students chose majors early and took courses required for the major, maximizing their financial aid and creating academic momentum. Student support services were relocated to the library and rebranded the Academic Commons.


But the college didn’t stop there. New technology to support redesigned enrollment services provided a more personalized approach to recruiting, enrolling, and advising and created stronger ties between the college’s academic and support services. The developmental and gateway education course sequence was redesigned to help students quickly advance to college-level courses. A new student success course called Learning Frameworks was launched to help students discover how best to learn. Despite limited funds, the college also invested in professional development for faculty to help ensure that these new approaches would be implemented successfully and benefit all students.

Scaling Change Leads to More Student Success
Texarkana College tackled a great number of reforms all at once. According to Dr. Donna McDaniel, vice president of instruction, “Even though during the course of the transformation it felt like the college had a lot of balls in the air, we just kept pushing forward, tying it back to student success and student completion. Trying to get all [the problems] fixed at once was a challenge, but we decided to really go big. We took big swings and we made sure that we were scaling up.” Moreover, she said, “we tried to intentionally tie every little piece together” into a cohesive strategy.

College leaders attribute their success in holistic change to their participation in the ATD Network, noting that Achieving the Dream was essential in helping guide the college’s reform efforts.

“Our Achieving the Dream coaches gave us the faith and confidence that we could turn this place around and achieve great results. They helped so much to get us partnered with the right people and the right best practices, and they were huge cheerleaders,” said President James Henry Russell.

The data confirm that Texarkana College’s strategy and implementation yielded measurable improvements that translated to success for many more of its students. As a result of its efforts, the college increased its three-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students from 10 percent to 31 percent for the 2008 and 2013 cohorts, respectively. The college’s equity gaps are narrowing, too. The 3-year graduation rate for Black students increased from 4 percent to 22 percent for the 2008 and 2013 cohorts, respectively.

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