Pierce College has joined the Achieving the Dream initiative this year, which is designed to help community college students stay in school to earn a degree or college certificate.
According to the Achieving the Dream website, this initiative was implemented in 2004 because the college-age generation was less educated than the previous generation, yet the work place was increasingly competitive.
Fewer than half of all students who enter community college with the goal of earning a certificate or degree have met their goal six years later. The Achieving the Dream program is working to change that.
“We really felt that as an institution we had to become an Achieving the Dream school,” said Thomas Broxson, dean of natural sciences and co-chair of the Achieving the Dream initiative at Pierce College. “There is simply so much at stake right now and we need to do everything we can to make sure we are doing all we can for student success.”
Many schools in the nation, including Washington state, that are participating in Achieving the Dream program have made changes to improve student success, Broxson said.
About 200 colleges from 15 states are a part of the Achieving the Dream network, each seeking to accomplish the goal set in place by the initiative: success for more community college students, especially students of color and low-income students.
In accordance to this goal, Pierce College officials are focusing on successful completion of courses, advancement from remedial to credit-bearing courses, continuous enrollment from one semester to the next and completion of degrees or certificates.
About 20 percent of fall quarter students at the Puyallup and Fort Steilacoom campuses and through eLearning do not enroll in winter quarter classes.
“What we will need to focus on first is getting more students to stay in school from term to term and get more students through any pre-college courses they need to complete,” Broxson said.
Last year, 63 percent of Pierce College students who were tested needed to take pre-college English courses. Almost 80 percent of those students also needed to take pre-college math courses.
This has made it increasingly difficult for students to graduate because many have to take three or four pre-college courses before they can even reach college level classes.
The members of the Achieving the Dream committee plan to place extra emphasis on these students to help them make it to college level and not quit beforehand.
They also are brainstorming ways to aid students from all cultures and backgrounds as well as help students find their best learning style.
“At this time I don’t think you will see many changes on campus that could be directly attributed to Achieving the Dream,” said Tom McCollow, math instructor at Pierce and co-chair of the Achieving the Dream initiative. “This is our first year as a member institution. We will use this first year to collect and analyze data. And then we will use what we have learned to identify priorities. We will be creating institutional efforts to address these priorities and then measuring the success of these efforts at helping students achieve their goals of success and completion.”
With this initiative only recently being put in place, many students are unaware of what Achieving the Dream is. As the year continues, faculty members are looking to increase the emphasis on the initiative.
“Hopefully, all Pierce College students will experience a focused effort from all elements of the college, which will help students overcome barriers to their success,” McCollow said. “As we proceed to the next phase this year, we plan on getting a lot of input from students in order to help identify what things impact their success at Pierce. We plan on several opportunities for student involvement, mostly throughout the winter quarter.”
Although there is a renewed focus on data-gathering and feedback from students, the number one priority is to ensure every student earns their degree.
“Right now, districtwide, our three-year graduation rate is 15 percent for incoming students and it’s lower for many minority groups,” Broxson said. “The multiyear objective for the district is to put in place policies and practices that will get a larger percentage of students to their goal: graduation.”
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