Community Colleges ‘Achieve the Dream’ for Student Success

March 13, 2014



At a time when community colleges struggle with persistently low retention and completion rates—estimates show just four to 11 percent of students who start at two-year institutions earn a degree in two years and just over a third do so in six years — Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) and Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) are making inroads to move the needle in a positive direction.

Both schools were recently awarded the Leah Meyer Austin Award for “building whole-college solutions to improve student success and equity, and meeting the specific needs of their student body, resulting in measurable increases in student success.” Along with the prestigious honor, BHCC and MCCC were each awarded $25,000 at the annual Achieving the Dream conference in Orlando, Florida, to support their ongoing work with student success.

Building a Culture of Success

Achieving the Dream Awards 2014With the commitment of faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees to Achieving the Dream’s Student-Centered Model of Institutional Improvement, BHCC has continued to see quantifiable success with their ambitious student achievement goals — even as its enrollment grew from 8,000 to 14,000 students and the college transitioned to a new president.

“Helping students persist in their studies and walk across the stage at commencement to receive their hard-earned degree or certificate is what we are all about,” said Pam Y. Eddinger, President of BHCC in a press release. “We are honored to be recognized for work that is so central to our mission.”

BHCC’s focus on college-wide, data-informed decision making has resulted in measurable increases in several critical areas. The college has:

  • Increased fall-to-fall persistence from 41 percent to 51 percent
  • Improved black students’ completion rates from 68 percent to 72 percent
  • Increased Latino students’ completion rates from 68 percent to 74 percent
  • Raised completion rates in gateway English from 67 percent to 74 percent
  • Improved completion rates in developmental English courses (reading and writing) from 72 percent to 78 percent

This is not the first time BHCC has been rewarded for its efforts to improve student success. In 2011, BHCC achieved Leader College status within the Achieving the Dream Network for improving student success through its Learning Community Program, which integrates academic affairs and student support services. The college has since expanded the program to reach even more students, piloted new reforms, and strengthened its focus on equity outcomes.

Removing Barriers to Succeed

With student success at the heart of its strategic plan, MCCC developed practices and procedures designed to realize individual achievment and the personal goals of each student.

“Montgomery County Community College takes a holistic approach to student success,” explained Dr. Karen A. Stout, President of MCCC, in a press release. “By leveraging data to align our strategic planning efforts and budget decisions with student success goals, we are able to continually make improvements and remove barriers that impact retention and completion. At the same time, we’re able to engage faculty, administrators and staff from across disciplines and departments in our student success work.”

This focus on student success has led to college-wide, data-informed decision making resulting in:

  • Reduced new students’ placement in developmental English by 31 percent without impacting their subsequent success in college-level English
  • Increased success rates by as much as 20 percent among the highest-need developmental education students by scaling a redesigned course—Concepts of Numbers—that is being replicated at 10 other colleges
  • Improved the college readiness of students in feeder high schools by as much as 63 percent through a variety of policy and procedure changes, student support services, and course redesigns
  • Increased persistence among new students by 10 percent with improvements in gateway courses and reconfiguration of the system-wide master schedule to make it easier for students to enroll in these high-demand courses
  • Improved minority men’s persistence by an average of 15 percent through mentoring

Achieving the Dream

Achieving the Dream, Inc. is a national nonprofit leading the country’s most comprehensive non-governmental reform network for student success in higher education history. The Achieving the Dream National Reform Network includes over 200 institutions, more than 100 coaches and advisors, and 15 state policy teams. The organization works throughout 34 states and the District of Columbia, giving nearly 4 million community college students a better chance to realize greater economic opportunity and achieve their dreams.

The Leah Meyer Austin Award recognizes outstanding institutional achievement in promoting student success through the creation of a culture of evidence, continuous improvement, systemic institutional change, broad engagement of stakeholders, and equity, with particular attention to low-income students and students of color. Established in 2008, this award is given in honor of Leah Meyer Austin, former Senior Vice President for Program Development and Organizational Learning at the Lumina Foundation, whose visionary leadership shaped the development of Achieving the Dream.