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A Year of Growth, Learning, and Leadership

| Dr. Karen A. Stout

Research & Reports
January 12, 2024

When we read national trend data showing that too many students are not accessing, staying in, or completing postsecondary education and that equity gaps remain persistent, and when we read survey results indicating that students and the public are increasingly questioning the value of higher education, we see little trace of what is working and the innovative and transformative work that is being done by our leading colleges.

The more than 300 colleges in Achieving the Dream’s Network (and other institutions who partner with us in grant-funded initiatives) continue to reveal what is possible when colleges put the needs and aspirations of students and communities at the center of their efforts. Just look at the journey of Sinclair Community College, the 2023 Leah Meyer Austin award recipient, which increased its four-year completion rate by 8% for the most recent cohort of students, including a 7% increase for Black learners and a 21% increase for adult learners.

ATD remains committed to bringing new colleges into our Network with a three-year intensive experience in building fundamentals and capacity for transformation and to working with them to identify large levers for accelerated student success based on student data. We welcomed 13 new colleges into our Network last year, including 10 colleges that are part of the Accelerating Equitable Outcomes (AEO) cohort. This cohort, funded in part by a gift from MacKenzie Scott, is focused on increasing the number of racially/ethnically minoritized and poverty-affected students who earn postsecondary credentials.

We also continued to support the journeys of our more mature Network colleges with a curated blend of coaching supports, learning events, and grant-funded innovation efforts designed to tackle issues that impede student success, particularly for racially minoritized and other historically underserved students. For example, 10 ATD Network colleges are participating in the Accelerating and Diversifying Nursing Pathways at Community Colleges initiative, which is supported by the Brave of Heart Fund. The colleges are working to create stronger pathways to employment in the nursing field and to address the pervasive, systemic inequities for BIPOC representation in the profession, particularly among higher-paid positions and occupations.

More than ever, we are guiding community colleges to think strategically about the added value that community partners — including K–12 leaders, employers, and community organizations — bring to supporting students and their families through the entire higher education experience. This all-inclusive community approach is the basis for our work in promoting the development of professional learning communities — work that recognizes community colleges as the crucial connectors between education and employment in communities.

ATD continues to evolve our thinking around data, one of the founding capacities of our work and something we are known for in the field. Central to that work is our ongoing partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse in the Postsecondary Data Partnership, a powerful set of tools to help colleges better understand and use institutional data to improve student momentum, outcomes, and equity.

The newest dimension of this work is quantifying the results of the efforts to bring vitality and economic prosperity to the communities that our Network colleges serve. Building on ATD’s long leadership in helping colleges build data capacity so they can make data-empowered decisions to best serve their students and communities, we are taking the next steps toward enabling institutions to capture key metrics beyond those pertaining to the milestones traditionally documented during students’ college careers. Our efforts, exemplified in the work we are doing with our Community Vibrancy Cohort, a group of nearly 20 mature Leader Colleges co-designing the metrics with ATD, seek to empower colleges with the capacity to also collect data that monitors milestones that occur after students earn their credentials — workforce outcomes and other markers of a vital and prosperous community.

As we look forward to our 20th year of supporting community colleges’ student success efforts, this fiscal year’s work is foundational in setting the agenda for the next 20 years. We are deeply grateful for our funders who have supported these efforts and other partners in this work, including the courageous and committed community college leaders in our Network.

We invite you to help us in this quest. Let us know if you are interested in partnering with us as we advance this new strategic agenda.

View the 2023 Annual Report
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