High school grad rates rise

Student Success Centers Gain Traction

By Emily Rogan

How community colleges in Texas are learning from each other and ultimately helping students.

Jobs for the Future (JFF) recently announced a commitment by The Kresge Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to invest $2.5 million to create five new Student Success Centers in Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington state.

Seven such centers already exist in other states; the latest additions support the notion that the model is working. Student Success Centers, directed by JFF, provide community college leaders within the same state opportunities to share strategies, train faculty and bring to scale proven programs that improve outcomes for students. Because these centers unite community colleges statewide, they create strong advocacy partnerships and practices to best serve students, particularly first-generation, low-income and underserved populations.

The Texas Success Center at work

Cynthia Ferrell is the executive director of the Texas Success Center, now in its third year. Historically, Texas has been a trailblazer in its work built around the completion agenda; many of its community colleges have been transformed by collaboration with organizations such as Achieving the Dream and Completion by Design. But until recently, there’s been a disparity in the quality of resources among different community colleges.

The Student Success Center is helping the 50 Texas community colleges continue to grow and change together, Ferrell says. The focus on Pathways — moving students quickly and efficiently through the educational system from K–12 to career — is a priority. “We’ve learned so much from the last 10 years,” Ferrell says. “This is the next step in our evolution: to stitch together the lessons we’ve learned to create a more comprehensive package and solution.”

Success Center hosts Pathways Summit

In the fall of 2015, more than 500 people convened for the Pathways Summit, including faculty, presidents and other staff members from 34 community colleges in the state. Center staff facilitated the event, where participants shared ideas and innovations, supported each other’s efforts and left with concrete implementation plans.

“It started a buzz on campuses,” Ferrell says. “I was really thrilled about the way the summit turned out. There were people from all over Texas who wanted to know more, asking, ‘How can we begin to have these conversations?’ or ‘What do we do next?’”

Working to scale

Before the Success Center, explains Ferrell, the state hadn’t “had the opportunity to share information, make a significant difference in statewide data or move the needle in a big way.” Students attending colleges who had access to some of the more effective pilots and interventions tended to have higher completion rates than students at schools less engaged and connected.

Now, the goal is to move those successful programs to scale statewide, Ferrell says. The colleges want to help each other and recognize that they can’t function in isolation. The Success Center’s work helps keep them informed on what’s happening on both a state and a national level, she adds.

Board of Trustees Institute

The center received additional funding to host institutes for community college trustees for the next three years. This year’s theme, “The Board’s Role in Enabling Student Pathways to Success,” will help educate and empower board members about their roles in advancing the completion agenda and helping students succeed. “They are elected volunteers who care deeply,” Ferrell says. “They come together and learn about how they can make a difference. It’s very rewarding.”

A better system for students

Ferrell believes the collaborative efforts of Texas’ community colleges, assisted by the center’s work as a hub, will reap big results.

“I think that 10 years from now you will see community colleges who have really changed the way they do business. They will change the way students come in, register, get into classes. They will be delivered and packaged so students will see a beginning and end and have a clear career goal and see how easy it is to get there. I’m proud the center will have been in the middle of that to make it happen. I’m sure of it. It’s going to happen,” she says.

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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