Pierce College has joined a national program to help community college students to stay enrolled in higher education and reach graduation.
While this national program—Achieving the Dream—started seven years with high hopes of coaching student success, research has shown student completion has remained relatively unaltered.
The approach of the Achieving the Dream program is to track students as they progress through their years of attendance. Data is collected to determine where students are successful and there a continuing condition of below average performance appears. This data helps administrators determine what changes can be made and better understand what keeps students in attendance, and what causes them to leave.
This evidence is gathered to establish a culture of continuous improvement in programs and services, however, the gathering and determining of such improvements is a lengthy process. This is evident in the records that while many colleges have drastically altered strategies and programs the percentage of students remaining at such colleges is relatively unchanged.
Most of the original 25 colleges who joined the project seven years ago have indicated some improvement of student continuation, but this is achieved only after a long period of time.
Improvements in retention are necessary for a continuation of not only students graduating, but also encouraging perspective students to enroll.
For students who may be underprepared will be those students who need ATD. The student body that ATD primarily focuses on aiding are low-income students and students of color; those students who have been proven to have some of the lowest college retention rates.
Since the start of the program importance has been placed upon developmental courses, meaning courses like mathematics and English that are specifically required for graduation. However, while importance has been placed on these courses, as a whole of those colleges utilizing ATD, students performances have remained unaltered.
As indicated by research done by ATD, only 25 percent of those taking an introductory mathematics course complete the class within their first two years. Similarly, only 40 percent of those assigned to English courses complete the required sequence within the first two years.
These results are said not to be surprising, but instead suspecting, said Thomas Brock, director of policy for young adults and postsecondary education at MRDC, a nonprofit social policy research organization. Brock predicted more promising results in the coming years saying,
“We are certainly not shying away from the results,” said Brock. “But at the same time, we are seeing a lot of good progress in terms of colleges laying the foundation needed for student success.”
Four out of five community colleges in the nation have put into effect, at least to some extent, the approaches of the ATD, one being Pierce College. As indicated on the Pierce College Achieving the Dream web-page, the college’s goal is to produce more students who learn and become eager and proactive in the earning of their college degree. The college intends to change lives and open up a vast array of possibilities with ATD. However, this array of possibilities may be only available to students in a few years when the kinks in the ATD chain have been sorted out.
While a successful implementation of ATD may be on the horizon, “ultimately,” Brock said, “the success of Achieving the Dream is dependent on the college’s own commitment to the work.”
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