Spreading Innovations Across Community Colleges and Higher Education

The work of innovation is essential not only to help community colleges but to help all open-access institutions implement reforms and put students on solid ground for success in school and beyond. The following are recent efforts leading to new services that have enriched the ATD Network.

Planning and advising.
In 2015, ATD began offering technical assistance on planning, implementation, progress monitoring, and change management to 14 of the 24 colleges and universities selected to participate in the Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success in Higher Education (iPASS). Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, iPASS helped institutions use technology to enhance and streamline course advising, selection, and registration and track student progress to improve academic decision making. Coming out of this work, in 2018, ATD offered a new experience for colleges, Holistic Student Supports, to help them accelerate their learning and integrate their student support redesign work across the entire institution.

Structured pathways.
In October 2015, 30 colleges were selected to design and implement structured academic and career pathways to scale for all of their students through the Pathways Project, led by the American Association of Community Colleges in partnership with ATD, seven other organizations and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Of these 30 institutions, 21 are current ATD institutions and two are former ATD institutions, that are well prepared to move confidently into such comprehensive change. This is not a coincidence, as implementing the ATD model has helped these colleges build the organizational capacities to confidently move into and be successful in the pathways work.  

Non-academic supports.
In 2015, ATD led the scale-up of a broad effort to introduce a fresh, holistic approach to student success and equity by taking into account family and work responsibilities, financial needs beyond tuition, and the financial knowledge students need to sustain the other aspects of their lives. The three-year Working Students Success Network (WSSN) initiative brought together 19 colleges in four states to help students gain financial skills and career experience to successfully earn credentials and find jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, and MetLife Foundation, WSSN demonstrated more effective strategies to provide individuals with a coherent set of services in three key areas: education and employment advancement; income and work supports; and financial services and asset building.

Career pathways and career development.
ATD also continued to collaborate with Jobs for the Future on STEM Regional Collaboratives to help colleges develop close partnerships with employers, P-12 school systems, and community organizations to strengthen their middle-skill STEM pathways. With support from the Walmart Foundation, ATD worked with four colleges to implement a Strengthening Pathways to Retail Careers initiative, which was designed to lead to higher, family sustaining wages in the retail and hospitality industries. ATD also facilitated a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to support workforce development, awarded to Passaic Community College. ATD helped build a coalition of seven colleges, led the proposal design work, and supported their learning community. The Northeast Resiliency Consortium work gave workers credit for previous learning and built regional capacity to retrain the unemployed, veterans, and workers in critical occupations, such as healthcare, information technology, and environmental technology. In 2016, ATD also launched a 16-month initiative designed to build a manufacturing talent pipeline in three communities. The initiative allowed the organization to deepen its understanding of the skills colleges need to engage key community stakeholders such as employers in efforts that help more students achieve their academic and employment goals.

Adjunct faculty.
Beginning in 2016, ATD has led the Engaging Adjunct Faculty in the Student Success Movement, a two-year planning and implementation effort to empower adjunct faculty to improve instruction and become more deeply engaged in student success initiatives. It involves six ATD leader colleges and is funded by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation (now Ascendium Education Group). The Community College Research Center (CCRC) serves as a third-party evaluator for the project, documenting the strategies employed, stakeholder experiences with implementation, and project outcomes. ATD introduced its new line of services in 2018-2019 to help institutions to create a culture of excellence in teaching and also addressed supporting efforts by colleges to implement OER and accelerate developmental education.

Strengthening partnerships between community colleges and human services NPOs.
In 2019, The Kresge Foundation announced a $3.6 million funding opportunity to strengthen partnerships between community colleges and human services nonprofits that connect people with low incomes in cities to critical human service supports and educational pathways that advance social and economic mobility. The initiative, Boosting Opportunities for Social and Economic Mobility for Families (BOOST), builds on Kresge’s commitment to strengthen urban higher education ecosystems and work across teams to accelerate social and economic mobility using a racial equity lens. Through BOOST, Kresge will award up to eight three-year grants of up to $450,000 each to qualifying partnerships between community colleges active in the Achieving the Dream Network and human services nonprofits.

Open Education Resources

The OER Degree Initiative, which included 38 colleges in 13 states, was launched in 2016 to help institutions develop dynamic openly licensed content into course redesign, create full OER degree programs, and save students money by eliminating the need to purchase textbooks. The three-year effort is producing a library of high-quality, digital, open courses that ATD will make available to other colleges and the public. The initiative’s funding ($9.8 million) comes from a consortium of investors that includes the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation (Ascendium), the Shelter Hill Foundation, and the Speedwell Foundation. A study released in 2018 examined implementation of the OER Degree Initiative found significant benefits to instruction and student learning experiences as well as savings for students who used OER. The study, Participant Experiences and Financial Impacts: Findings from Year 2 of Achieving the Dream’s OER Degree Initiative, reported that students who use OER find them to be accessible, relevant, and engaging. Over 60 percent of students reported that the overall quality of their learning experience in an OER course was higher in comparison to a typical, non-OER course. The research, conducted by SRI International and rpk GROUP, is the second in a series of studies on OER implementation released by ATD. The third and final report is scheduled for release in early 2020.

Aspen Prize

Achieving the Dream was proud to congratulate two of our network colleges, Indian River State College and Miami Dade College, who were named co-winners of the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The $1 million Aspen Prize, awarded every two years, is the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges. The Prize highlights institutions with outstanding achievements in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students. In working with network colleges, Achieving the Dream focuses on academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity, particularly with low-income students and students of color. “I’m thrilled and proud that two network colleges are sharing the 2019 Aspen Prize,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout. “They’ve shown an exceptional commitment to their students and a strong commitment to change, and have embraced the powerful foundation that ATD’s institutional capacity-building approach has contributed to their efforts to improve the college experience for all of their students.” Among the more than 1,000 eligible public community colleges, 10 finalists were chosen for the award. Of the 10 finalists, eight were in the ATD Network, another confirmation that the alignment of our work focuses with what the Aspen Institute identifies as critical to high performing institutions.

Supporting Institutional Transformation at Tribal Colleges

Under-resourced, minority-serving colleges often lack the fundamental institutional capacities that enable them to undertake the kinds of whole-college transformation efforts such as structured pathways and developmental education reform that lead to significant improvement in student outcomes. Beginning in 2017, ATD has been working with 32 tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) to support institutional transformation and capacity building with the goal of improving student success. Participating colleges have conducted a capacity assessment with ATD and have received dedicated data and leadership coaching services, including full participation in the ATD Network. This important work is supported by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, and Ascendium Education Group.

In 2018, TCUs new to the ATD Network began their deep dive into understanding the importance and use of disaggregated data to identify at-risk students and target and evaluate interventions to improve outcomes among various subgroups of students. Because of their work, ATD is learning more about how TCUs create conditions for the success of their students through intentional design and are encouraging TCUs to share their expertise within the ATD Network.

“What is important as we make these changes is that our commitment to equitable student outcomes, data-informed practice, and deploying coaches that help colleges build important habits remain central to our theory of action.” – Dr. Karen A. Stout, President and CEO, Achieving the Dream

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