Jobs for the Future (JFF), with support from the Kresge Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, hopes to improve community college persistence and completion by creating new Student Success Centers (SSC). A request for proposals, due October 9, is expected to result in up to four new centers being announced in December. Up to $250,000 annually for two years will be awarded to each center.
A number of states have already expressed interest in applying, says Chris Baldwin, senior director at JFF, who previously developed Michigan’s Student Success Center with the Michigan Community College Association.
“Some states are very well organized,” Baldwin says. “Other state offices are decimated because of cuts, or they never had this capacity, or they are looking to add innovative flair. A key variable is, do the institutions trust this entity to serve as a critical friend? That relationship and trust is crucial.”
Seven states — Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas — are already part of the Student Success Center Network. Michigan was one of the first, joining in 2011.
Unlike most states, Michigan doesn’t have a coordinating board or system office for its community colleges. As one of the most decentralized states in the country, Michigan’s community colleges have tremendous autonomy.
The SSCs have multiple tools to aid student completion, including convening staff from various campuses to focus on components that lead to student success, such as mobility policies and curriculum. In Michigan, more than 400 people convene for a student success talk each fall.
Research and data are key to focus and development. “It’s difficult to improve outcomes if you don’t know where you’re starting from,” Baldwin says. “We didn’t have a strong sense of performance indicators.” Discussions led by the center helped establish what was needed in order to compare apples with apples. All but three of Michigan’s community colleges have opted to join the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA).
“I can’t underscore how monumental a shift it is for a decentralized state. It’s a big win that gets colleges used to working with one another,” Baldwin says.
Questions surrounding policy agendas around student success in Michigan are also being addressed.
Is your state ready for a Student Success Center?
Baldwin stresses that an SSC is not a silver bullet when it comes to completion agendas, but it is a missing piece. Michigan’s SSC has made big changes, but not overnight.
“At first I felt all 28 colleges needed to do everything, or else we were falling short of our mandate,” Baldwin says. “But not every college is at the same place.”
His advice to states interested in an SSC is to make a serious commitment. “If your state can benefit from one of these centers, get behind it,” he says. “It’s up to you to take advantage of this investment.”
Each institution is unique and faces distinct community needs. “But the problems that we collectively face are similar,” Baldwin says. “The concepts are the same. If presidents and senior leadership can see in themselves what others can accomplish, they can make daunting challenges feel doable.”