Achieving the Dream Continues Support to South African Coaches As the Siyaphumelela Network Expands

group of attendees with Dr. Karen A. Stout at the event

The first cohort of South Africa student success coaches at the Dream Coaches Retreat, Kentucky, USA, October 2019.

In June, July, and August, Achieving the Dream has continued its six-year collaboration with Saide, a nonprofit organization in South Africa, and six higher education leaders who will serve as coaches to student success teams at universities participating in the second phase of the Siyaphumelela project in that country. ATD led the third in a series of trainings for the South African coaches earlier this week. Siyaphumelela – which means “We succeed” in isiXhosa – is a student success initiative led by Saide and funded by the Kresge Foundation. Beginning in 2014 with five participating institutions, all 26 South African universities are now eligible to join the Siyaphumelela Network. 

Siyaphumelela seeks to build institutional capacity to collect and analyze student data so that institutions can focus on the most effective interventions to increase student success across South Africa. The coaches began training with ATD in October 2019 at the Dream Coaches Retreat in Kentucky, continued their work at DREAM 2020 in Maryland, and are now preparing to support new universities joining the South African Siyaphumelela Network.

Professor Wendy Kilfoil, who is one of the new South African coaches, is a consultant in teaching excellence and student learning to the University of Pretoria and said tracking and using changing student demographics was integral to increased student success at her institution which participated in the first phase of Siyaphumelela.

“Our data showed that white students outperform black students when it comes to completion in minimum time although after an extra two years the completion rate is equivalent. This has been a great motivation to pilot and scale interventions that have proven successful in Achieving the Dream schools. Since we joined Siyaphumelela, the percentage of students completing in minimum time has increased significantly.”

Several ATD staff and three Achieving the Dream colleague coaches met virtually in late June, July, and again on Monday, Aug. 3, for training sessions that prepared the South African coaches for situations likely to occur as they begin working with their universities. The sessions are also aimed at cultivating relationships among the ATD and South African coaches to support the expansion of the Siyaphumelela network and cultivate cross Network learning. Ermien van Pletzen is Associate Professor in the Centre for Higher Education Development at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa and director of the Academic Development Programme at UCT, which provides alternative pathways, supported by the national government, through many of the university's regular undergraduate curricula by offering supportive and more intensive extended versions of courses at first- and second-year level.

“While these curricula aim at addressing equity gaps in student performance, I have become aware of the importance of systematically using data to design, implement and track educational practices supportive of student success (and enhancing student experience). By becoming a coach, I hope to contribute to strengthening capacity in higher education in South Africa, especially towards increasing social justice and equity in the higher education system.”

Specific goals of the initiative include:

  1.  Improve institutional capacity to enact data-driven strategies that support student success.
  2. Create South African models of universities using successful data analytics to improve student outcomes.
  3. Create a greater awareness and support for data use to improve student success in South Africa.
  4. Create a shared vocabulary and consensus on effective practices to improve student success.
  5. Grow the cadre of data analytics professionals equipped to support student success.
  6. Increase the number of previously disadvantaged students who complete a quality postsecondary credential in South Africa

Siyaphumelela Coaches

  •  Elizabeth Booi, Business Intelligence Data Architect in the Institutional Planning Office, University of the Western Cape
  •  Wendy Kilfoil, consultant in teaching excellence and student learning, University of Pretoria
  •  Nthabiseng A. Ogude, Analytical Chemist, Science Educator and currently Professor and Dean, Mamelodi Campus of the University of Pretoria
  •  Bala Pillay, Senior Professor in Microbiology, University of KwaZulu-Natal 
  • Ermien van Pletzen, Associate Professor in the Centre for Higher Education Development, University of Cape Town in South Africa
  • Delysia Timm, over 30 years’ experience in South African higher education, as a lecturer, an academic development practitioner, a strategic projects manager, and at various managerial levels

ATD Colleague Coaches

  • Jennifer Hill-Kelley, Holistic Students Supports Coach
  • Nancy Finazzo, Data Coach and Assistant Vice President and Associate for Adult Degree program at Northwood University
  • Jan Lyddon, Data Coach

Last year, ATD president and CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout delivered a keynote address, Helping All Students Succeed: Insights from the American Community College Experience, at the Siyaphumelela 2019 Conference in Johannesburg.

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