Southwest Tennessee Conveys ATD Work Into $2.1 Million Equity Grant

Restructuring Student Success Work Leads to Multi-Million Dollar Grant

A multi-campus, urban institution in Memphis, ATD Network college Southwest Tennessee Community College enrolls many students who require academic and other supports to complete credentials that lead to good jobs and economic mobility. Like many community colleges, Southwest identified significant achievement gaps among its students. These gaps were particularly troubling for a minority-serving institution with a 60 percent African-American enrollment. The institution bolstered its work to close these gaps by joining the Achieving the Dream Network in 2016 and has systematically redesigned academic and student programs to support students more equitably from the time they decide to attend college until they complete a degree or credential. Now, just three years after beginning to institute significant changes at the college, Southwest has been awarded a $2.1 million grant from the federal Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP) to institute IDEAS, Inclusive Design for Equity in Academic Success.

From the beginning of their work with Achieving the Dream, Southwest president Dr. Tracy Hall was clear that the entire college needed to do this work together. During their first year in the ATD Network, Southwest focused on redesigning processes in student affairs that were preventing students from enrolling, persisting and completing their credentials. Dr. Hall strategically invited faculty, staff, and administrators to comprise the teams that did this work, providing different perspectives and experiences in addition to quantitative data. The teams also reached out to students, asking about their needs and challenges. The result was to connect the student affairs processes more intentionally to academic work and career exploration, with professional academic advisors and faculty mentors serving as important touch points. This clarity of purpose and whole college engagement led to an open dialogue with Southwest faculty, staff, and students, and ultimately to the redesign of the advising model. Southwest now has professional academic advisors on 12-month contracts, with each advisor working a case load to proactively support students.

Restructuring Student Success Work

Last year, Southwest restructured the organization of its student success work, establishing a student success council, with Equity and Inclusion and Teaching and Learning emerging as two central points of focus. Leveraging the learning from prior ATD work, the new teams are guided by focus groups the college held with its students. Students shared that the personalized attention they were receiving was important and valuable. This validated that the college was moving in the right direction. Through the Title III SIP grant, Southwest will now have 25 Equity and Inclusion practitioners–many in academic affairs–spread across campus to inform the enhanced work in Teaching and Learning. Increased data democratization will allow cross-functional teams from student affairs and academic affairs to collaboratively work to close achievement gaps.

Through intensive work with its ATD coaches, Southwest began to better understand their data and how to support the success of its students. 

“When we looked at quantitative data, we saw the academic achievement gaps that were occurring by race,” shared Dr. Jacqueline Taylor, Southwest’s associate vice president of retention & student success. “These data really led to the IDEAS grant. We wanted to be sure that we addressed this challenge head on. As a Minority-Serving Institution, these gaps were especially concerning. We knew that we had made significant, positive changes to the out-of-classroom student experience, and now we needed to be just as intentional about the work we were doing inside the classroom in order to offer culturally-responsive teaching that would fully support all students at Southwest, especially underserved student populations,” she said.

Focus and Vision

In reflecting on the impact that ATD coaches had on Southwest’s work, Dr. Taylor spoke to focus and vision. 

“The coaches helped keep us focused on the ICAT [ATD’s Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool] competencies. We spent a significant amount of time on how you lead and gather synergy around being data informed. You’re not just speaking anecdotally–you’re following a vision.” 

The SIP grant will help the college further foster equity and inclusion and student success through the IDEAS initiative. The college is focused on critical performance metrics that will increase overall success rates by eight to 10 percentage points, and close achievement gaps between White students and students of color by 10 percentage points over the next five years. The grant will give Southwest the ability to bring in more capacity to further disaggregate data and create data dashboards.

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