Briefs Underscore How Designing the College Experience Based on Needs of Every Student Improves Success

Briefs Released in Advance of National Conference with 2,000 Community College Leaders

In advance of its national conference, DREAM 2020, Achieving the Dream has released a series of four briefs examining the support needs of four diverse community college student populations. The briefs highlight the need for holistic student supports to meet the academic and personal support needs of demographically and geographically diverse student populations.

“Community and technical colleges serve as the gateway for an increasingly non-traditional student population who have been historically underserved in higher education but possess great potential. Colleges have the ability to redesign the student experience and create learning environments that remove systemic barriers and help students attain economic mobility,” said Shauna Davis, executive director of Holistic Student Supports. “These briefs help inform the critical conversations ATD’s Network colleges are having about student success and closing equity gaps.”

In 2018, ATD launched a line of Holistic Student Supports services that helps colleges understand, plan, and implement a cohesive suite of services that help students address the academic and non-academic factors vital to retention and completion. This approach helps colleges focus on the intentionality, integration, and sustainability of services to ensure proactive and strategic outreach and support of students. The services align with ATD’s comprehensive goal to support colleges through whole college transformation as well as to the guided pathways framework, especially in getting students on a path to completion and supporting them through their entire journey. Coaching and consultation—such as facilitating professional development workshops—and producing tools for the field, such as the comprehensive Holistic Student Supports Toolkit, are part of the services ATD offers to colleges in its national network.

“ATD begins our work with colleges with a core principle that places the student voice in the center of our re-design work, using quantitative and qualitative data to bring each unique student story to life. This series is a must-read for all colleges committed to designing supports that enable all students to succeed,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream.

All four briefs can also be downloaded on the Holistic Student Supports page. The briefs include:

Equity in Design for Holistic Student Supports: What We’re Learning

The complexity and scope of the challenges today’s students face explain why community colleges across the country are reexamining the student experience and the support services they provide. As open access institutions, community colleges open the doors of higher education and workforce training programs to students who may otherwise not have the opportunity to pursue. Even though the beginnings of these colleges were rooted in the ideal of making education less exclusive, colleges struggle with how to design a supportive learning environment that helps all student populations they serve—many of whom experience food and housing insecurity, along with financial and family challenges—to realize their goals.
Through our work with over 150 colleges, Achieving the Dream is deeply committed to supporting institutions in designing a holistic student supports approach that ensures all students receive what they need to achieve their goals. We know from this work that colleges not prepared for the magnitude of the changes required to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body can often end up struggling to make real progress.

The first brief in this series challenges colleges to do three things in their implementation of student supports redesign: move beyond the initiative mindset, know your students, and practice facilitative leadership.

Equity in Design for Holistic Student Supports: A Gateway to College for High School Students

Every adolescent faces challenges as they navigate their teenage years, but for some these challenges imperil their ability to complete their education. While “early college” initiatives and dual or concurrent enrollment programs have expanded dramatically to support low-income and first-generation students, they focus primarily on young people who are enrolled and making progress in high school, not those who are struggling—or who have dropped out.

Even as overall high school graduation rates have gradually improved, more than a half-million students left school without obtaining a diploma between October 2015 and October 2016, the most recent year for which federal data was available. And the continuing stream of students who leave high school with a diploma contribute to a larger pool of disconnected young adults. Growing numbers of community colleges are recognizing the importance of serving these disconnected youth.

The Gateway to College program, a dual enrollment program on community college campuses for students who have not completed high school, has spread to dozens of communities nationwide. Gateway’s approach to introducing high school students to the college experience is designed to increase their sense of belonging, which supports their identity as college students. A sense of belonging is reinforced in many ways, including small learning communities, first-semester courses, and dedicated space for the program at most colleges. Amenities and a sense of community make students feel welcome and ready to learn.

Equity in Design for Holistic Student Supports: Increasing Success for Student Mothers at Community Colleges

Student mothers often straddle multiple demographic populations important to community colleges—women, parents, students of color, and those facing significant financial challenges. Women represent the majority of college students across all institution types, and more women attend community colleges than four-year campuses. Women, on average, often do better than men at many institutions, yet stark equity gaps among women are revealed when data is disaggregated by age, and importantly, by whether they are parents.
Understanding these equity gaps is crucial to serving student mothers, as the majority of the 3.8 million student parents in higher education attend community colleges. One in four community college students are parents, and seven in ten parents raising children while in college are women, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

While student mothers face significant challenges, they often are resilient, persistent, and determined to make better lives for themselves and their children. When provided with proper supports, single mothers— who are at much higher risk of not completing—can attain their goals.

Equity in Design for Holistic Student Supports: Supporting the Success of Students Enrolled Part-Time

Nationally, 65 percent of two-year community college students attend on a part-time basis. Even though they represent the majority of students on community college campuses, part-time students experience lower success rates on every key metric of progress and completion. Students who are enrolled part-time are less likely to stay in college and complete their academic goals than their full-time peers. But even as the national community college student success movement has focused on increasing student outcomes and closing equity gaps, the part-time student has typically been on the periphery of these changes.

Students enrolled part-time at community colleges are more likely to be working while studying, have dependents to care for, and are far more likely to be over the age of 24 than their full-time peers. While redesign of student supports benefits all students, effective practices directly impacting part-time students have not been a priority area of focus in many reform efforts, illuminating a need for a deeper understanding of the complexity of students’ lives and how college policies and practices impact the ability of this population to progress and complete their goals.

Throughout March, Achieving the Dream will host weekly webinars focused on each release.

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