State-Funded Project in Oregon Shows Promising Results for First-Generation Students​

Student success programs play a critical role in helping students get to college, thrive in college, and succeed in a workforce where postsecondary education is increasingly in demand. In 2015, inspired by the success of Portland Community College’s (PCC) Future Connect program, the Oregon Legislature directed $3.1M to community colleges in Oregon to increase college success for low-income and first-generation students. Through a competitive grant-making process, funds were distributed to nine of Oregon’s 17 community colleges to support innovative student access and success interventions during AY 2016-17. Seven of the nine grantees were colleges in the Achieving the Dream Network.

PCC, the largest college in the state and an ATD Network college, recognized the need to document the practices supported by this investment and to ensure grantee colleges could learn from one another. To achieve those objectives, the college set aside part of its grant award to create and convene a community of practice among all grantees. Hired by PCC but serving all nine grantees, Gateway to College National Network staff (now part of ATD) hosted multiple convenings, facilitated the exchange of best practices, and documented specific practices, broad themes and policy recommendations that emerged from the collective work of the grantees.

In 2017, the legislature invested another $3.1M in First-Generation Student Success grant funds, which were awarded to 13 Oregon community colleges for the 2018-19 academic year. ATD's Gateway to College staff continued in its role convening this growing community of practice, and in documenting the challenges and successes that colleges experienced. Understanding that it was crucial to measure the impact of this investment, the Oregon-based Ford Family Foundation funded a third-party evaluation of the Student Success grants. In March 2019, Public Profit, an evaluation firm hired by the Gateway team, released its findings from the First-Generation Student Success funding. The findings documented some excellent practices, and made clear recommendations about future student success investments. These recommendations match up well with Achieving the Dream’s priorities for student support, and they have strong implications beyond Oregon.

College partners shared success on a number of fronts. Central Oregon Community College, for example, used funding to host summer symposiums for Latinx and Native American students. Students who participated in the two programs had strong high school graduation rates, and most shared that they planned to enroll in college at the end of the grant period. Rogue Community College, an ATD Network college, used funding to provide a College Success and Survival course, ongoing coaching and advising, financial assistance counseling, individual academic advising and career guidance during participating students' first 30 credits. The retention rate for participants in this program was 86 percent from fall 2016 to winter 2017, and 80 percent from winter 2017 to spring 2017.

The state funding for this work speaks volumes, as it shows the importance that state lawmakers place upon the success of low-income and first-generation students. The work in Oregon provides a model for future investments in strategies to ensure that first-generation students can access and complete community college, essential to the core of Achieving the Dream’s mission.

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