Leah Meyer Austin Award

Achieving the Dream’s  Leah Meyer Austin Award is the highest honor a college in the ATD Network can earn. The award has been given annually since 2009 to a college that employs a holistic approach to reducing achievement gaps between student groups and increasing success for all. The award recognizes institutional strength, aligned policies and procedures, a student-focused culture, and notable increases in student outcomes.

The selection process reflects the latest approaches to student success work and results. As colleges are increasingly able to gather, analyze, and present data to motivate change that benefits students, ATD’s partnerships with the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) and others allow us to incorporate into the selection criteria nationally recognized student success metrics. In addition, more Network colleges are using ATD’s Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool (ICAT) to identify their strengths and needs in areas such as equity, teaching and learning, engagement, and communication. The selection process also acknowledges colleges’ efforts to strengthen institutional capacity in building a student-centered culture.

ATD invites colleges to apply for the award if they meet two sets of criteria. Network criteria require an eligible college to be designated as a Leader College in good standing and a participant in the ATD Network for at least three program years. An eligible college will not have won the award in the previous five years.

In addition, eligible colleges must meet one of the following four data criteria:

  • Show a four-year improvement in the IPEDS three-year graduation rate of at least three percentage points (first-time full-time students); or
  • Show a four-year improvement in the National Student Clearinghouse three-year graduation rate of at least three percentage points (first time ever in college, degree seeking, first time ever in college students, both full-time and part-time); or
  • Show a six-year transfer-out bachelor's degree completion rate at or above the national level; or
  • Have been chosen in 2017 as one of the top 150 colleges in the competition for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

Network colleges that meet these criteria receive an invitation by email to complete an application.

Application information was announced on Tuesday, October 2, 2018. Applications for the 2019 Leah Meyer Austin Award are due November 8, 2018. 

Please contact austinaward@achievingthedream.org or 240-450-0075 if you have questions.

Congratulations to the 2018 Leah Meyer Austin Award winners Texarkana College and Odessa College. Read more about them here and here.


  • Texarkana College is the winner of the 2018 Leah Meyer Austin Award. The college is recognized for significant innovations that have resulted in critical progress including increasing the graduation rate for first-time, full-time students by 21 percentage points from 10% to 31% and an 18 percentage point increase in the graduation rate for Black students from 4% to 22% during the same time period.

    Read the brochure to learn more about how they did it.

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    2018_lma_texarkana_college.pdf177.66 KB
  • Odessa College is the winner of the 2018 Leah Meyer Austin Award. The college is being recognized for significant innovations that have resulted in critical progress in metrics such as decreasing course drop rates, increasing student persistence, and increasing degree completion. The college increased, and nearly doubled, its three-year graduation rate for all students. In addition, the college increased, more than doubling, the graduation rate for Hispanic students, the college’s largest demographic group. For White students, the college’s second largest demographic group, the graduation rate increased, but not quite doubled, during the same time period. Now, with Hispanic students graduating at a higher rate than white students, the college has closed their equity gap.

    Read the brochure to learn more about how they did it.

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    2018_lma_odessa_college.pdf184.46 KB
  • Founded 50 years ago in an abandoned grocery store, Pierce College today enrolls more than 20,000 students in multiple physical locations in Lakewood and Puyallup, Washington, and online. Driven by a mission to create quality educational opportunities for a diverse community of learners, Pierce has always taken pride in its student-centered culture.

    Several years ago, however, when Pierce began a concerted look 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. Moreover, when data were disaggregated, the numbers showed that Pierce was not living up to its own expectations for delivering equitable education for all its students.

    “Equity was a key element, whether that had to do with ethnicity, first-generation students, Pell grantees, gender issues, or single parents,” says Dr. Michele L. Johnson, the chancellor of Pierce College. Given that Pierce is an open access institution, Johnson says, “it’s a falsehood if we open the door and then don’t provide resources for success.”

    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 the brochure to learn more about how they did it.

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  • Long recognized for its innovative work, Miami Dade College (MDC) found itself in a quandary. Assessing its student performance data in 2010, the college realized that too many barriers prevented too many students from staying in college or completing academic programs. Unstructured student pathways, too many academic choices, misaligned support, and unclear or inconsistent information all took a toll on student outcomes. 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.

    Read the brochure to learn more about what they did, and why it worked.

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  • Moving from Stand-Alone Excellence to Integrated Excellence

    In 2009, when Kenneth Ender became president of William Rainey Harper College, he discovered faculty and staff who were ready for a college-wide strategy that emphasized student success. Harper's students were not completing enough of the credentials they had come to college to earn, and Harper's faculty and staff wanted that to change.

    Dr. Ender saw in that desire a unique opportunity to unify the college under one common agenda. With the support of the board of trustees, Harper College joined the Achieving the Dream National Reform Network in 2009 and began applying the ATD Institutional Improvement Model and organizing to launch a student success agenda grounded in the principle of building community.

    The overall impact has been transformational. Since joining ATD, Harper College's culture has evolved from one of "stand-alone excellence" to a community dedicated to "integrated excellence." Leaders from all areas of the college are now empowered to improve the student experience. The collective efforts of the college community have contributed to an impressive ten percentage points increase in their graduation rate.

    Read the brochure below to learn more about how they did it.

  • Award Overview

    The Leah Meyer Austin Award (LMA Award) annually recognizes an Achieving the Dream Institution that has demonstrated outstanding progress in achieving organizational and cultural change in pursuit of a student success vision that integrates all its individual efforts into a cohesive strategy. Successful institutions design whole-college solutions to support and promote the success of all students, resulting in significant and sustainable institutional improvement. Institutions take bold actions to design policies, processes, and programs that reinforce desire to achieve the institution’s student success and equity goals. Winners exhibit dynamic and committed leadership, demonstrating the following: cultivate a culture of evidence, support and promote broad and meaningful engagement from stakeholders across the college community, and pay particularly close attention to the needs of underrepresented and underserved students.


    Eligible Applicants

    Active Achieving the Dream Institutions that joined the Network in 2013 or prior and have not received the LMA Award in the last previous two years (2014 or 2015) are eligible to apply. For a complete list of active institutions, please visit our website. Achieving the Dream will announce the winner of the LMA award at DREAM 2016. The winner will be notified by November 20, 2015, and will agree to keep the results confidential until the formal announcement.


    How to Apply

    Applicants should submit the narrative-questions and evidence-upload components to austinaward@achievingthedream.org by 11:59 pm ET, October 16, 2015.


    We strongly encourage applicants to review the full application and review the rubric prior to beginning their application.

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    2015 LMA Award Overview and Rubric493.67 KB
  • The Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) receives the 2015 Leah Meyer Austin Award jointly with  Patrick Henry Community College.

    Institutional transformation did not happen overnight at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). And it did not happen by chance. As the largest provider of higher education in the region, CCBC takes the responsibility for student success seriously, and has committed to making college work for all learners.

    That commitment was put to the test when CCBC came to the stark realization that most of its students were not advancing to and through gateway courses and academic programs. From 2007 to 2011, CCBC experienced dramatic increases in enrollments,upwards of 36 percent. With these increases came more students who were less prepared, more diverse, and more at-risk of dropping out. And these challenges disproportionately impacted African-American students.

    Read the brochure to learn how CCBC did in the face of these challenges. 

  • Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) receives the 2015 Leah Meyer Austin Award jointly with The Community College of Baltimore County.

    To say that rural southcentral Virginia has experienced tough economic challenges and high unemployment rates as a grave understatement. Once dubbed the “furniture capital of the world,” this region faced a new title in the wake of the 2007 recession: the unemployment capital of Virginia. Much of its citizenry lives below the poverty line and lacks a high school education, limiting the availability of jobs that offer family-sustaining wages.

    Through strong academic and workforce programs, PHCC and its community and business partners have now earned the “Advanced Film Manufacturing Capital of the World” designation for their community. Today, Achieving the Dream proudly adds another title to PHCC’s repertoire: 2015 Leah Meyer Austin Award Winner.

    Read the brochure to learn how PHCC achieved this dramatic improvement. 

  • Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) received the 2014 Leah Meyer Austin Award for working effectively to help every student achieve his or her education goals. The president, trustees, staff, and faculty—both part-time and full-time—move forward with the understanding that individuals’ success in higher education has the potential for positive, multi-generation effects on families and communities. Through implementation of Achieving the Dream’s Student-Centered Model of Institutional Improvement, MCCC has built whole-college solutions to improve student success and equity, tailored to the unique needs of its student body.

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  • Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) received the 2014 Leah Meyer Austin Award for building whole-college solutions to increase student success and achieve equity outcomes. The commitment of faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees to Achieving the Dream’s Student-Centered Model of Institutional Improvement made it possible for BHCC to sustain momentum on ambitious student success goals even as its enrollment grew from 8,000 to 14,000 students and the college transitioned to a new president.

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  • Eligible Applicants:
    Institutions actively affiliated with Achieving the Dream

    Directions for application

    Resource Files

  • South Texas College (STC) receives the 2013 Leah Meyer Austin Award for demonstrating systemic institutional changes that have resulted in noteworthy increases in student success. Through the implementation of Achieving the Dream’s Student-Centered Model of Institutional Improvement, STC has:

    • Created a college-going culture in its community
    • Raised its three-year graduation rate
    • Expanded its dual enrollment program
    • Improved college-readiness of incoming students
    • Increased completion rates in developmental and gateway courses

    Resource Files

  • Zane State College received the 2012 Leah Meyer Austin Institutional Student Success Award for closing the gap between developmental education students and college ready students, and improving the retention of drop-out prone students. Zane State College’s Achieving the Dream strategies have changed the college’s culture and raised the prospects of residents of Zanesville and the other low-income, rural Appalachian Ohio communities served by the college. In Fall 2011, 87% of the college’s 2,900 students received financial aid; 76% needed developmental courses.

    The Austin Award recognizes the superb management of the college’s leadership team, as well as the college’s closing of gaps between underprepared and college-ready students, and its steady graduation rate amid exponential enrollment growth of high-need students.

    Resource Files

  • El Paso Community College receives the 2011 Leah Meyer Austin Institutional Student Leadership Award for simultaneously increasing student success and college access.  With Achieving the Dream the college instigated a college going culture in a metropolitan border area where 82% of residents are Hispanic, 27% are low-income, and 54% have a high school diploma or less education.

    EPCC's multi-faceted strategy reduces the number of students who need developmental courses; improves the performance of students who place in developmental courses; adds to enrollment in gateway courses; expands completion rates in gateway courses; and raises graduation rates.

    Resource Files

  • Guilford Technical Community College was selected as the 2010 winner of the Leah Meyer Austin Institutional Student Success Leadership Award for its outstanding achievements in changing its institutional culture.

    In their award application GTCC leaders summarized the impact this way: “In the 50-year history of the college, there has never been an initiative that has produced more meaningful involvement of the total college community.” Outside evaluators agree that GTCC has
    institutionalized its student success agenda and systematized data use across the college. “Most of its numerous strategic interventions—ranging from a supplemental instruction program for developmental education students to a revamped orientation and
    streamlined intake process for [developmental education] first-year students—have each been implemented and evaluated over time. Furthermore, several strategies have been scaled up based on promising student outcomes to reach increasing numbers of students,” MDRC evaluators reported in 2009.

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  • Valencia Community College was selected as the first winner of the Leah Meyer Austin Institutional Student Success Leadership Award for its excellent execution of data-informed initiatives to close performance gaps among students from different ethnic and economic backgrounds. The systemic strategies developed collaboratively by Valencia’s faculty and staff are also improving the success rates of all students in the gatekeeper courses they target.

    Resource Files

    2009_Austin Award Brochure.pdf799.5 KB

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