Letter from Dr. Karen A. Stout, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream
America’s 1,000-plus community colleges are engines of opportunity and economic mobility in communities nationwide. They play a central role in providing millions of Americans affordable access to higher education. Community colleges enroll nearly half of all students in higher education including the largest percentage of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students. About three in 10 (29 percent) community college students are first-generation and one-third are economically marginalized who otherwise would not have a pathway to postsecondary education.
Achieving the Dream (ATD), a reform network of more than 300 community colleges in 45 states and the District of Columbia, provides a nexus for improvement in these colleges to support student success and create more equitable communities. That work is more important than ever as current circumstances require us to think more boldly beyond the reasonable strategies of the pre-COVID era to address the unprecedented challenges at our door. This includes working with our Network colleges to develop new approaches to:
- Put students on solid financial ground with sound emotional health and well being;
- Tear down inequitable structures and advance policies, practices, student services, and teaching approaches that more directly address the root causes of inequitable outcomes;
- Address unemployment, underemployment, and job displacement in communities; and
- Respond to enrollment shortfalls by making equity, not meeting recruitment targets, the guiding force to address enrollment declines.
To address these challenges, ATD has led the way with new strategies, new coaching, new resources for colleges, and new expertise and internal capacity for leadership. This year the organization secured the largest investment in our history. The $20 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott will allow us to secure our future, expand our focus on equity, and bring support to new regions and institutions that have lacked the resources to benefit from ATD’s approach to student support and institutional transformation.
“Community colleges enroll nearly half of all students in higher education including the largest percentage of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students. About three in 10 (29 percent) community college students are first-generation and one-third are economically marginalized.”
Most importantly, we are committed to using these resources and strategic support from other donors to invest in our Network colleges more deeply and help them become accessible hubs of learning, credentialing, and economic mobility that eliminate inequities in educational and workforce outcomes and lead the way forward in catalyzing equitable and economically vibrant communities.
This document synthesizes what ATD and its Network colleges and strategic partnerships have achieved and been working on during a historic moment that called for a major shift in course. We invite other funders and partners to join us in these efforts.
Achieving the Dream 2021 Annual Report