Response to U.S. Department of Education “Fulfilling the Promise, Serving the Need: Advancing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students”

Achieving the Dream President & CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout responds the March 2016 to U.S. Department of Education “Fulfilling the Promise, Serving the Need: Advancing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students” report.  


The U.S. Department of Education’s “Fulfilling the Promise, Serving the Need: Advancing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students” released in March reports that many of America’s colleges and universities are “doing impressive and inspiring work by increasing college access for low-income students…But too many colleges and universities are missing the mark.” The report underscores the need for all colleges and universities to pay closer attention to enrolling and graduating low-income students.

I fully agree with the report’s statement, “it is in America’s interest to advance both access to higher education for low-income students, and success once they enroll,” and applaud the institutions that are making the necessary commitments to realize change. However, as acknowledged in the “College Pathways for Low-Income Students” section, the report focuses on some of the four-year institutions that “serve low-income students well,” but does not include advances made by America’s community colleges. The last section of the report, “Promising Practices for Improving College Access and Completion,” opens with the statement “Some institutions have already begun the hard work of improving college completion rates by implement promising approaches and interventions with their own students, and in some cases, through engaging in partnerships aiming to advance these goals at scale.” In fact, a great number of institutions–America’s community colleges–have been leading the way in this important process.

Nearly half of all students who seek higher education choose to do so at a community college; fewer than half of them finish what they start. Achieving the Dream, a national reform network dedicated to community college student success and completion, focuses primarily on helping low-income students and students of color complete their education and earn credentials that are valued in today’s workforce. Achieving the Dream (ATD) has been leading the most comprehensive, non-governmental reform movement for student success in higher education history for the past 12 years and has partnered with more than 200 community colleges to improve student success and achievement for more than 4 million students. One of the outcomes of our work across the country with college, governmental, foundation, and industry leaders is raising the visibility of the importance of equity in the pursuit of outcomes, and establishing ways in which community colleges can help more low-income students successfully attain a degree. We have changed the conversation on community college campuses from valuing access to our colleges, to valuing access to and success through our colleges for all students

Last month at our annual Institute on Student Success, DREAM 2016, we unveiled a new national model for organizational change that emerged from more than 10 years of ATD research and information gathered from the field. This national model, ATD’s Institutional Capacity Framework, identifies seven essential capacities that must be in place in order for colleges to undertake large-scale change work like that required in Pathways or its sister effort, Integrated Planning and Advising Systems. They are:

  • Leadership and Vision
  • Data and Technology
  • Equity
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Engagement and Communication
  • Strategy and Planning
  • Policies and Practices

In addition to this new national model for increasing capacity for change, Achieving the Dream is implementing other “promising approaches and interventions” designed to improve access and completion lower-income college students, such as Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success in Higher Education (iPASS Initiative). Together with EDUCAUSE, ATD is working with 26 two-year and four-year institutions to leverage integrated technologies to enhance and streamline advising and planning services with the goal of transformative institutional change, covering the areas of education planning, counseling and coaching, and targeting risk and intervention.

We are committed to our reform work with America’s colleges and look forward to the Department of Education’s next report addressing progress among low-income students in our nation’s four-year and two-year institutions.

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