Achieving the Dream Recognizes Miami Dade College and Pierce College District for Transformative Change, Improved Graduation Rates

San Francisco, CA (February 21, 2017) -- National community college reform leader Achieving the Dream (ATD) today awarded the 2017 Leah Meyer Austin Award to Miami Dade College (FL) and Pierce College District (WA). The national prize is given annually to a college or colleges in the ATD Network that show measurable improvement in student outcomes driven by top-to-bottom cultural change in the institution.

This year’s Award, sponsored by the Kresge Foundation and Achieving the Dream, is accompanied by a $25,000 prize for each college to continue its student success work.

“To be selected as a Leah Meyer Austin Award winner, a college must be courageous enough to make big, bold changes in everything that impacts the ability of their students to be successful,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “Miami Dade College and Pierce College are strong examples of institutions that took bold action to align college-wide solutions that result in significant and sustainable institutional improvement.”

For example, the three-year graduation rate for all Pierce College students increased from 22 percent in 2009 to 31 percent in 2013. Their fall-to-fall retention rate improved from 51 percent to 60 percent for all students. Their rate for first generation college-going students increased from 21 percent to 30 percent.

“Pierce College focused on better understanding its data in order to make big, college-wide changes to address its issue of dropping retention, course completion, and graduation rates for all students. Their great success in improvement in those critical areas sets them as an exemplar among community colleges. We’re very proud of their work,” said Dr. Stout.

Miami Dade College realized that too many barriers prevented too many students from remaining in college or completing their academic programs. To address this issue, the college undertook bold, institution-wide changes. During this transformation, for example, their three-year graduation rate increased from 31 percent to 34 percent, including an improvement of six percentage points for male students.

“Miami Dade’s commitment to increasing student completion drove the college to develop a change process that included new strategies, programs, activities, and interventions. Decisions were driven by what students needed to persist and complete their studies,” said Dr. Stout.

Miami Dade College

In 2010, Miami Dade realized that barriers created by the college prevented too many students from persisting or completing academic programs. To address that complicated set of challenges, the college undertook a bold, comprehensive, and institution-wide series of changes to transform the student experience and institutional culture. Teams analyzed student data, developed hypotheses about obstacles to completion, reviewed literature, and conducted surveys and focus groups. They adopted a guided pathway named for the college’s mascot, the “Shark Path,” which aligns academic and support services and guides students from before they enter college to completion of a credential and transition to either a baccalaureate program or the workplace. Read more about Miami Dade’s transformation and its increase in student success here.

Pierce College

When Pierce looked hard at its aggregated student success data, the college was startled to find that its retention, course completion, and graduation rates were not at acceptable levels. Fall-to-fall retention rates hovered just above 50 percent, for example, and three-year graduation rates were below 20 percent. Pierce saw that to fully deliver on the promise of its goals for student success in a genuinely student-centered culture, it needed to better understand its data and to learn to make better evidence-based decisions. That realization sparked the college into action that would eventually result in broad-scale cultural changes. Read more about Pierce’s change process and the outcomes it produced here.

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Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 277 community colleges committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity. ATD is making progress in closing equity gaps and accelerating student success through a unique change process that builds each college’s institutional capacities in seven essential areas. ATD, along with nearly 75 experienced coaches and advisors, works closely with Network colleges in 44 states and the District of Columbia to reach more than 4 million community college students. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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