Achieving the Dream Awards Highest Honor to two Colleges for Dramatic Improvements in Student Success

Alamo Colleges, Lorain County Community College Win 2020 Leah Meyer Austin Award

During the Opening Plenary of DREAM 2020, Achieving the Dream (ATD) awarded its 2020 Leah Meyer Austin Award to Alamo Colleges (TX) and Lorain County Community College (OH). 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.

“To be selected as a Leah Meyer Austin Award winner, a college must have the commitment to make big, bold changes throughout the institution,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “Alamo Colleges and Lorain County Community College have the courage to make those changes in everything that impacts the ability of their students to be successful.”

Alamo Colleges (LINK TO BROCHURE)
Alamo Colleges District comprise five colleges—Northeast Lakeview College, Northwest Vista College, Palo Alto College, San Antonio College, and St. Philip’s College—serving the 1.5 million people living in the eight counties surrounding San Antonio, TX. Alamo College District’s student body of 60,692 is 62 percent Latinx, 23 percent White, 8 percent Black, and 4 percent Asian or other. Approximately 81 percent of students attend part time, 70 percent receive financial aid and 53 percent are economically disadvantaged.

Alamo Colleges District showed how a system of autonomous colleges can work together to intentionally build a structure and culture organized around student success. Fifteen years ago, the colleges recognized their single-digit graduation and completion rates were untenable given the context of a growing community, a struggling local economy, and high levels of poverty.

“We are increasingly focused on economic and social mobility because we know that a college credential provides a ticket to the American middle class,” shared Dr. Mike Flores, Alamo Colleges District Chancellor.
Joining Achieving the Dream served as the catalyst for the District colleges to accept working together to align processes, become data informed, and clearly focus on student success and performance excellence. They formed core cross-college data and change-management teams to collaborate, innovate, and apply what they were learning from Network experiences. At the same time, their independence made the colleges natural laboratories for experimentation.

“We use discovery, incubation, and acceleration to build proof of concept at one college, then develop it, and bring it to scale at another,” said Flores.

The Alamo Colleges District Board of Trustees drew ideas from Achieving the Dream’s best practices and principles and the institutional capacity areas, on which it modeled its strategic framework for measuring progress on student success. Today, focused innovations have yielded increases in student completion overall and in equity for its most vulnerable populations. For the period between 2005-06 and 2017-18, the District saw an increase from 6 percent to 25 percent in the three-year graduation rate; and from 9 percent to 26 percent in the four-year graduation rate.

Last year, the Alamo Colleges District declared a moonshot of ending poverty in the greater San Antonio area by expanding partnerships to address economic and social mobility. The goal is to close the gaps among students of color, align workforce development programs to high-wage, high-demand careers, and scale Student Advocacy Centers to work for all students. 

Lorain County Community College (LINK TO BROCHURE)
Lorain County Community College serves nearly 11,000 students, with 74 percent attending part time. The student population is 72 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic, 9 percent Black, and 4 percent Asian. Of first-time entering students, 59 percent were eligible for Pell Grants, 35 percent were first generation, and 65 percent entered straight from high school.

Upon joining Achieving the Dream in 2011, Lorain County adopted a “culture of care” to more proactively guide students on their journey to degrees. Faculty, staff, and institutional researchers began asking students more probing questions about their first-year experiences and they dove deeply into disaggregating data, which allowed them to learn how much they didn’t know. Students were getting hung up on which courses to take, on completing gateway English and math courses, on even finishing their first year. The institution saw how equity gaps fell starkly along racial/ethnic, income, and gender lines.

To focus on equity and help students complete their degrees in the shortest time possible, faculty and staff redesigned developmental education, introduced case management advising, designed academic and career pathways, and implemented other proven interventions.

“By joining Achieving the Dream, we were able to invest in nurturing a culture where every student’s dream matters; where advancing equity and opportunity for all students permeates the entire campus,” shared Dr. Marcia Ballinger, Lorain County Community College president.

Today, the culture of caring has led to an holistic overlay of internal and external services as well as academic and nonacademic supports that guide students from first point of contact to graduation, transfer, and beyond. The Lorain County community has made a commitment to equity, embracing the belief that “every student’s dream matters.” Faculty, staff, and leaders listen to students and make a point of incorporating the “student voice” in their planning, evaluation, and communications. They have ramped up seamless holistic wraparound supports that help students stay in college.

Lorain County recently launched Vision 2025:10,000 Degrees of Impact, a strategic plan resulting from an extensive, inclusive process of engaging internal and external stakeholders. It represents the college’s continued commitment to student success and regional economic prosperity. Vision 2025 aims to generate 10,000 degrees in the next five years by focusing on five areas: students, success, future, work, and community. The college intends to realize “a dream for a vibrant community where all students achieve academic and career success; industry talent needs are met and businesses start, locate, and grow; and all people connect and prosper.”

Past Leah Meyer Austin Award winners have achieved significant national recognition including Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence winner Miami Dade College, and Aspen Rising Stars Pierce College and Palo Alto College.

The Leah Meyer Austin Award was established in 2008 to recognize outstanding achievement in supporting and promoting student success through the creation of a culture of evidence, continuous improvement, systemic institutional change, broad engagement of stakeholders, and equity, with particular attention to low-income students and students of color. The annual prize is given in honor of Leah Meyer Austin, former Senior Vice President for Program Development and Organizational Learning at the Lumina Foundation and Emerita Director of the ATD Board of Directors, whose visionary leadership shaped the development of Achieving the Dream.

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 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 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, LinkedIn, and Wakelet.

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