Pierce College Puyallup: No rising star

Pierce College Fort Steilacoom won the Aspen Institute’s Rising Star Award. Why not Puyallup?

Seo Kim photo.

Dawn Hammer


The Aspen Institute awarded its Rising Star Award to Pierce College Fort Steilacoom on April 2. That distinction – the fact that it’s only the Fort Steilacoom campus that was selected for the award – is important to note.

Selection criteria for a Rising Star Award include facets of student learning, proven equitable outcomes, student completion and transfer rates and entrance into the labor market after graduation.

Fort Steilacoom’s recognition as a Rising Star is extraordinary considering that over 1,000 community colleges were initially deemed eligible for Aspen’s Prize for Community College Excellence.

The eligibility field was whittled down to 150 schools based on national data concentrated on student performance and improvement rates. From the remaining pool of candidates, only 10 college finalists were considered for the award.

After a two-day visit to each of the finalist campuses and interviews with college leadership, a jury comprised of higher education experts, corporate leaders and civil rights advocates selected the winners of both the Community College Excellence awards and the Rising Star awards.

A common theme among the five overall winners: meaningful connections between college leadership – including advisors – and the students they serve.

Florida’s Indian River State College is one of the recipients of the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

According to the Aspen Institute, college leadership at Indian River employ a customer-service based approach to their student advising and support services: students are the customers to be served, and college employees are responsible for ensuring that they are.

Members of Indian River’s administration call this approach “The River Way”, and say it is a highly structured and deeply pervasive focus necessary for student success.

Fellow Rising Star Award recipient Odessa College in Texas also stressed the need for leadership to connect with students, but recognized a very specific relationship to be addressed – the one between student and professor.

Leadership at Odessa recognized that students most often dropped out of classes due to a lack of connection with their instructors. Faculty are now trained to learn each student’s name on the first day of class, acknowledge when a student requires intervention, build one-on-one student interactions into every lesson plan and set clear academic expectations.

One area of recognition for Pierce College Fort Steilacoom is professional development, including the structure of faculty promotions: professors are rewarded who train in effective teaching practices, test innovations in their classrooms and measure the success of those implementations.

Fort Steilacoom administration also said that teaching candidates are assessed for their commitment to equity – one of the considered facets for the Aspen Institute’s awards.

Faculty rework their syllabi to be more inclusive and culturally sensitive. Expanded recruitment practices are in place to diversify the faculty, as well.

According to the Aspen Institute, Pierce College Fort Steilacoom boasts a graduation and transfer rate of 59 percent, several percentage points higher than the national average of 40 percent.

Pierce College Puyallup’s graduation rate is not posted anywhere on the college website. A quick Google search reveals a stated graduation rate of only 25.3 percent for the Puyallup campus.

If accurate, this means that less than half of the number of students at Puyallup are successfully graduating or transferring to a university offering a four-year degree compared to students at the Fort Steilacoom campus.

With Pierce College Fort Steilacoom’s seemingly well-deserved win of a prestigious award, the question begs to be asked: What isn’t happening at the Puyallup campus?

The Aspen Institute made a clear distinction when they chose to recognize only one Pierce College campus with the Rising Star Award.

In contrast, Miami Dade College, co-winner of the Prize for Community College Excellence, also has more than one campus – eight in total – but earned the award as one entity. The campuses altogether serve around 96,000 students.

If a college that spans that many geographical locations and serves what must be an incredibly diverse student population can manage to implement policies and procedures that serve each of those students in a way that earns national recognition, surely Pierce College Puyallup, with a student population of only 6,665, can work to do the same.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Dawn Hammer

Pierce College Puyallup: No rising star

by Dawn Hammer time to read: 3 min