Accessibility, equity and preparedness at heart of college’s efforts
Nearly half of all students seeking higher education choose a community college. Fewer than half of those students actually finish what they start. Achieving the Dream (ATD), a national program that partners with more than 300 community colleges, including Berkshire Community College, is determined to change that statistic.
“In a time of hyper-competitive higher education, ATD works to break down barriers within and between colleges with the belief that access to higher education is a cultural good that will transform the country,” said Adam Klepetar, BCC Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. As a rural college located near many major metropolitan areas, BCC is uniquely positioned to support economic advancement, he explained.
BCC can prepare our community for life and work in a rapidly evolving economy while creating an innovative and well-educated workforce,” he said. “This, in turn, will attract business and industry to invest in our community while positively transforming the lives of our students and community partners.”
Conceived in 2004, Achieving the Dream now leads the most comprehensive non-governmental
reform movement for student success in higher education history, and its efforts are
gaining attention. In June 2021, philanthropist Mackenzie Scott donated $20 million
to the organization, the largest gift in its history. “We’re proud to be a part of
something so critical to the success of community college students,” said BCC President
Ellen Kennedy. “Accessible education has always been a core value at BCC, but participating
in this program allows us to expand our efforts in a data-driven way that will effect
ATD accepts grant applications from community colleges; recently, BCC won a grant to become part of an ATD cohort called Building Resiliency in Rural Communities for the Future of Work. “Berkshire Community College was a successful candidate due to its committed leadership, its equity goals aligned with those of the grant and ATD, and its preparation of a compelling argument for inclusion,” said Dr. Mary E. Ostrye, a consultant to ATD. Lauren Goodman, BCC Dean of Teaching & Learning Innovation, agreed.
“I think ATD recognized our commitment to equity, student success, and institutional change,” Goodman said. She noted BCC’s implementation of new program delivery models, such as the Early Childhood Education cohort; the creation of the Division of Teaching and Learning Innovation to support faculty with teaching and technology; and the construction of a One Stop center to help create a seamless experience for students.
I first discovered ATD around 2009, when I was working on my doctorate in Leadership for Higher Education. What interested me the most was the focus ATD put on helping community college students succeed — particularly looking at what community colleges can do to fill in the gaps for those traditionally underserved. ATD helps us to work effectively with the community to help our students complete degrees and certificates, develop leadership skills, get a job, or transfer to a four-year college. I’m thrilled BCC can benefit from this program.”
While BCC is still in the data-gathering, exploratory phase, other schools in the ATD network have shown impressive results. For example, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), which has worked to develop specific tools for success since joining ATD in 2010, was this year’s recipient of ATD’s Leah Meyer Austin Award. The national prize is given annually to a college in the ATD Network that shows sustained, substantive improvement in student outcomes; narrowing and closing of equity gaps; and outstanding commitment to equity-centered cultural change. NWTC has substantively increased student persistence, credit completion, and the proportion of students who successfully transfer and earn a baccalaureate degree. The college has also narrowed equity gaps for students receiving Pell grants, part-time students, and students who are parents.
“By joining Achieving the Dream, BCC has the opportunity to learn from a network of community colleges throughout the country, all of whom are working to make institutional changes to increase student success,” Goodman said. “At every step in the process, we are challenged to see ourselves and our data in new ways, from new angles. At every step, there is a sharp focus on educational equity to ensure that we understand the experiences of all BCC students, especially those who have been underrepresented in higher education.”
ATD Success Stories from Northern Essex Community College (NECC):
The following are testimonials from the team that worked on the Northern Essex Community College Achieving the Dream work in 2006:
First, one enormous benefit of ATD is the sheer size and scope of the network, and how easily it can be leveraged for professional collaborations. For example, through the ATD coaches NECC was able to connect with some folks from Southwestern Tennessee CC earlier this year to deliver our Professional Day programming on racial equity gaps. They provided opportunities for both Academic and Student Affairs to participate in the conversation, too, which was really powerful.
- Second, the coaches have been an integral part of NECC’s work. They have two ATD coaches who each bring a slightly different lens of expertise. One is their data coach, and she has helped us to identify metrics for student success, use metrics and data to design, guide, and measure initiatives, and has helped lead campus groups through data discussions that would otherwise have been difficult to have on our own. The other coach has really helped guide some of NECC’s professional learning, especially around equity, and continues to help us identify ways to support faculty and staff. This data focus was especially important in creating and progressing NECC’s Integrated Student Experience strategic goal work over the last five years.
- Third, adding to the data piece, the relationship with ATD is what has allowed NECC to make so much progress with equity data dashboards, including being able to have conversations with faculty about their individual course completion data. Without the coaches’ help and years of support to become a data-driven campus, NECC would not be where they are with our data work. The coaches had helped NECC be a college that can and does talk about data from an informed perspective (qualitative and quantitative), which was a really necessary foundation for being able to add the equity perspective in 2019.
- Finally, we also want BCC to know how amazing the tools, conferences, and networking opportunities are. Obviously, we, at NECC, have had our own things (data, the Integrated Student Experience as a strategic goal, etc.) but all of that started and has grown because of the resources available through the annual conference. Because of ATDs size, they can attract impactful keynote speakers and presenters, and the size of the network means you can hear from other colleges all over the country doing just about anything you might be thinking of starting up at BCC.
From our work with ATD, NECC has gained the resources, support, and knowledge we need to make impactful changes in student success work on our campus, and we have continually seen that work make a difference in our students’ academic lives. We have learned to use data for strategic insights from our knowledgeable coaches; we have built collaborative working relationships with colleagues from other network colleges; and the ever-grown body of resources available through the ATD conferences and online toolkits helps us continue to grow our internal expertise.