Arkansas Leading Change in College Student Experience

New report released on effective model for continuous improvement across community colleges statewide

Orlando, FL (February 25, 2014) – Today, Achieving the Dream released Continuous Improvement for College Completion: Arkansas Builds a System-Level Strategy for Community College Student Success during a session at DREAM 2014. This report details the coordinated efforts of Arkansas that has significantly improved the progress of student outcomes at two-year colleges across the state.

Between 2004 and 2011 Arkansas’s two-year institutions increased their degree and certificate production by 84 percent, compared to an increase of 32 percent for the United States as a whole during the same time period.

“We applaud the extraordinary commitments of the Arkansas community college faculties and administrations to ensure greater and more sustained successful completion by their students of their chosen programs,” said Achieving the Dream President and CEO William E. Trueheart. “This very difficult, but transformative, work will increase the numbers of gainfully employed, productive citizens thereby stimulating sustainable economic growth in their communities. We believe that Arkansas has the potential to become a national leader in community college reform producing exemplary practices that can be replicated in other states.”

Over the past five years, a broad, Arkansas statewide effort to improve student success in community colleges has taken root. Just 30 percent of Arkansan adults have a postsecondary degree, the second lowest rate in the nation. In that poverty correlates closely with educational attainment, that statistic is further complicated by the reality that the average household income in Arkansas is 25 percent below the national average.

Arkansas’s community colleges serve a unique and powerful role in educating the state’s students and future employees. But for many years student success in completing degrees and credentials at two-year colleges in Arkansas has lagged behind the US average.

Many factors played a role in Arkansas’s achievements. But a cornerstone in that success has been the development and implementation of a broad, intentional strategy, focused on student success, to build and scale the capacity of the state’s community colleges to drive change on their own campuses.

Partners in the effort to improve Arkansas community college student success included the state’s 22 community colleges, the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. Achieving the Dream helped the partners to develop and implement the “Arkansas System-Level Strategy for Student Success,” a new framework for building a state-wide culture of student success by testing, proving, and spreading innovative student success strategies across Arkansas’s community colleges. Intensive, creative, and methodologically rigorous, the System-Level Strategy is proving itself to be an effective model for continuous improvement across community colleges statewide.

*Read the full report here.


Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 220 community colleges committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity. ATD is making progress in closing academic achievement gaps and accelerating student success through a unique change process that builds each college’s institutional capacities in seven essential areas. ATD, along with more than 100 experienced coaches and advisors, works closely with Network colleges in 40 states and the District of Columbia to reach more than 4 million community college students.

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