Gallup study shows that community colleges with sustained, institution-wide focus on student success have strong impact on graduates’ success in workplace engagement, well-being, college satisfaction, and alumni attachment

Report reveals low-income students and students of color at colleges affiliated with Achieving the Dream are performing as well or better than their peers; Study kicks off new effort to identify the return on investment of community colleges to graduates

NASHVILLE, TN—February 22, 2018—While community colleges have spent the past decade working to bolster college retention and completion for a larger proportion of students, student success in community college goes beyond securing a degree or certificate or achieving a personal goal. It also means improved skills, better employability, and economic growth for families, communities, and our nation as a whole. A new report and a new national initiative are focused on broadening the definition of community college success to provide a more complete picture of the impact that community colleges have on their graduates and communities.

At its national conference here today, the national community college reform network Achieving the Dream (ATD) released a new report, Measuring What Matters, that explores the extent to which community colleges dedicated to student success make a significant difference in the lives of their graduates after college using new indicators of success developed by Gallup.

The new study, conducted by Gallup with support from Strada Education Network, shows that institutions affiliated with Achieving the Dream are outpacing peer institutions not associated with the reform network when it comes to helping more students get better jobs, live better lives, and have good experiences in college. Graduates of colleges affiliated with ATD are more likely to be “thriving” defined as well-being that is strong and consistent in a particular aspect of life on measures of:

  • Purpose or liking what they do each day and being motivated to achieve their goals (48% for ATD colleges vs. 35% at other community colleges).
  • Financial well-being or managing their economic life to reduce stress and increase security (32% vs. 19% respectively).
  • Social well-being or having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life (47% to 36% respectively).
  • Community well-being or liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community (39% to 30% respectively).

“The study also reveals that students at these institutions are thriving and that low-income students and students of color expressed rates of satisfaction and thriving at identical rates as white students, which is a crucial goal of ATD colleges,” said Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, the influential reform network of more than 220 colleges in 40 states and the District of Columbia. The organization focuses on equity, data-informed practices and whole-college solutions to improve student outcomes, particularly for low-income students and students of color.

According to the study, graduates from ATD colleges are engaged at work regardless of their income status, age or first generation status. According to the report:

  • 42% of low-income ATD graduates are engaged vs. 43% of non-low-income ATD alumni;
  • 42% of adult learners are engaged vs. 44% of younger students; and,
  • 43% of first-generation students are engaged vs. 44% of non-first-generation students.

The report also shows that within ATD colleges, students of color are “thriving” across areas of well-being at similar rates to white students. Hispanic and Asian alumni are most likely to be thriving in at least four elements of well-being (24% and 23%, respectively), followed by black (20%) and white alumni (20%).  Students of color reported having an “excellent” experience at their community college at similar or slightly higher percentages than their white counterparts. Hispanic alumni (52%) and black alumni (51%) are the most likely to say their experience was excellent.  Nearly half of white alumni and Asian alumni (47% and 46%, respectively) say the same.

Overall, students at ATD affiliated colleges also clearly have a positive experience. Nearly nine in 10 ATD graduates (88%) rate their college experience as “good” or “excellent.”  Meanwhile, nearly three of every five graduates of ATD colleges (57%) strongly agree their education was worth the cost. This was true regardless of income, first-generation status or race with Black and Hispanic graduates most likely to strongly agree their education was worth the cost (61% and 62%, respectively).

The report, Measuring What Matters, examines survey results of associate degree holders at 15 Achieving the Dream colleges in five states (Indiana, Texas, Florida, Virginia and Tennessee)—See list of local colleges attached--compared with Gallup’s national sample of associate degree holders. It provides ATD and its Network colleges with important insights on the impact of their efforts to make their policies and practices student-centered—from a student’s first interaction with the college through completion to work and beyond.

Redefining College Success

The release report also marks the launch of a multi-year initiative by ATD to help community colleges and the higher education community to determine the true return on investment of a community college education and how colleges are doing in preparing students for life.

“Completion, ensuring that more students graduate from college, should be seen as a progression metric demonstrating initial return on investment versus the end goal,” said ATD president Karen A. Stout. “While completion has been the common goal driving improvements, we also need to consider a broader range of metrics focused on students’ and graduates’ experience after college, career development, earning power, quality of life, and the value of the institution to the community. This study marks our first major effort to advance a new strategic direction that focuses not only on graduation but examines institutional progress toward the achievement of other holistic, student- and community-focused benefits of community colleges.”

”Community colleges serve approximately 40 percent of Americans who pursue postsecondary education, so it is imperative that we ensure these institutions are preparing students with the necessary skills and knowledge they need to obtain a good job and live a fulfilling life,” said Carol D’Amico, executive vice president of Mission Advancement and Philanthropy and former U.S. assistant secretary of education. “We know that, when it comes to student success, colleges need to ensure that students are benefiting from data-driven decision-making, real engagement from leadership, and equitable resources for students who may lack guidance from their personal networks. The findings in this report show that Achieving the Dream’s student-centered model, which includes these critical elements, helps to set students on the path for success.”

Individual Colleges Using Information to Improve, Recruit Students

Findings from some individual colleges had even higher rates of success, and institutions have been using the data as part of their strategic planning about how to best serve and recruit students and strengthen connections with employers and their communities.

“We were pleasantly surprised that our college scores significantly outperformed national data in the five categories of well being. This data, and strong findings about our graduates’ appreciation of college and the value of the degree, has gotten the attention of our marketing department,” says George Gabriel, vice president of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Student Success Initiatives at Northern Virginia Community College, one of the institutions that participated in the survey.

“About three years ago, our community college district changed its metrics for distributing funds to colleges and used a broader range of data, including graduation and transfer rates, and results from high-impact programs that lead to jobs,” said Jose Adames, president of El Centro College, one of 15 institutions in the Dallas County Community College District. “At El Centro, we were gratified that our institution’s results in this study provide a broad picture of our college’s performance. The study showed, for example, that our graduates were extremely enthusiastic about how well we prepared them for life outside the college and that college was worth the cost.”

Importance of Linking and Improving Data on Workforce and Education Systems

The institutions involved in the initiative are from states that have a policy environment that supports connecting workforce, education, and higher education data for better decision-making. 
“College leaders and state policymakers need to make a commitment to robust and connected data collection to ensure accurate measures of student success,” noted Dr. Stout.
While most colleges and states can easily track college completion rates, significantly fewer colleges track alumni data or are in states that have good labor market data connected to their educational data. The colleges and states involved in this study were able to participate because they had this data and as a result have a better picture of the broader outcomes for their students. This is particularly important as policymakers, business and community leaders and others are increasingly focused on a broader definition of student success to include variables, such as a student’s ability to transition to employment and grow with a business or their ability to connect with the community. Without robust and connected data systems it is virtually impossible for colleges to know for sure how their students fare after graduation and what impact their institutions are having over the long-term.

More Work to be Done

While the results of this study show promise for the work ATD and its network of colleges are engaged in, there is unquestionably room for improvement.
“ATD is committed to further strengthening its programs which are focus on innovation, customized coaching for colleges and connecting colleges in a peer-learning network to continue helping all students—particularly the most underserved—realize substantial value from their postsecondary experience and credentials, thereby strengthening their communities,” Dr. Stout said.
As a next phase of the work, Achieving the Dream plans to explore more about return on investment to communities as well as graduates over the next few years.
Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 220 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 closing  academic achievement gaps and accelerating student success through a unique change process that builds each college’s institutional capacities in seven essential areas. ATD, along with more than 100 experienced coaches and advisors, work closely with Network colleges in 40 states and the District of Columbia to reach more than 4 million community college students.

Strada Education Network is a national nonprofit (501(c)(3)) dedicated to catalyzing more direct and promising pathways between education and employment. Strada engages education, nonprofit, business and government partners to focus relentlessly on students’ success throughout all phases of their working lives. Together with its partners, Strada addresses critical postsecondary education and workforce challenges through a combination of strategic philanthropy, research and insights, and mission-aligned member organizations – all focused on advancing the universal right to realized potential, which Strada calls Completion With a Purpose®. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @StradaEducation.

Gallup delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems. Combining more than 80 years of experience with its global reach, Gallup knows more about the attitudes and behaviors of employees, customers, students, and citizens than any other organization in the world.


Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 300 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 45 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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