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Achieving the Dream awards highest honor for exceptional progress in equity and student success

News & Updates
February 15, 2022

During the opening plenary of DREAM 2022, a virtual convening of community college leaders, practitioners, and advocates, Achieving the Dream (ATD) awarded Tallahassee Community College (TCC) the 2022 Leah Meyer Austin Award. The national prize is given annually to a college in the ATD Network that demonstrates institutional strength, aligned policies and procedures, a student-focused culture, notable increases in student outcomes, and reduction of equity gaps.

“The Leah Meyer Austin Award recognizes exceptional whole-college efforts to center equity and advance student success,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of ATD. “Tallahassee Community College has shown a strong commitment to supporting students, making partnerships in the community, and crafting a culture of care, resulting in transformational change that has helped its students thrive.”

An ATD Network institution since 2004, TCC has maintained ATD Leader College status since 2009 and was just awarded Leader College of Distinction Status in 2022. The college has long leveraged the Network’s resources for continuous improvement. It created guided pathways and developed a teaching and learning framework with the help of ATD coaches and professional learning communities. In 2019, TCC leaders disaggregated data and identified three equity challenges at the institution: gaps in completion rates, low college enrollment, and high failure rates of students from the nearest majority-minority high school. To address these challenges, TCC convened nearly 170 faculty and staff to design a student experience where learners have a strong sense of belonging and begin their studies on a pathway in which they receive ongoing support through graduation.

These efforts resulted in TCC’s C.A.R.E. (Connections, Academics, Resources, Engagement) framework, an integrated series of advising, academic and non-academic supports, and resources intended to ensure students are supported from applying to TCC through graduation. Virtually all (98 percent) of the college’s graduates find employment or continue their education in the same year.

The college’s longstanding focus on closing equity gaps has resulted in remarkable improvements throughout the institution. Recognizing that research still shows that bachelor’s degree attainment results in increased social and economic mobility for students, TCC has focused on closing equity gaps around transfer and four-year degree attainment. For example, the proportion of Hispanic students who transferred and earned a four-year degree within six years increased 6 percentage points from 32 percent (2012 cohort) to 38 percent (2014 cohort). Over four years, four-year completion rates for Hispanic students increased by 15 percentage points and were equal to those of white students for the fall 2016 cohort. In gateway math courses, completion rates increased 9 percentage points, from 25 to 34 percent, for students who received Pell Grants between 2017 and 2020.

“We are honored to receive the 2022 Leah Meyer Austin Award,” said Dr. Jim Murdaugh, president of Tallahassee Community College. “This is a reflection of the incredible work by our faculty and staff here at TCC, who share a commitment to ensuring we are the college of choice for all our students. We are grateful for our continued partnership with Achieving the Dream and for this opportunity to share practices and policies within the higher education community that have created an environment where our students thrive.”

Today ATD also awarded two community colleges the Special Recognition Award

  • North Central State College (OH), an ATD Network institution since 2005 and a Leader College of Distinction since 2018, received a Special Recognition Award for substantive improvements in student outcomes, including continued increases in the number of overall credits completed, fall-to-fall persistence, and four-year completion rates. The college is also narrowing equity gaps for student parents, women, and first-generation, part-time, and low-income students.
  • Grayson College (TX), an ATD Network institution since 2014 and a Leader College of Distinction since 2019, was recognized for reaching new levels of student success with substantive gains in four-year completion rates and narrowing equity gaps for Latinx students and students receiving Pell Grants.

The Leah Meyer Austin Award was established in 2008 to recognize outstanding achievement in supporting and promoting student success through the creation of a culture of evidence, continuous improvement, systemic institutional change, broad engagement of stakeholders, and equity, with particular attention to low-income students and students of color. The annual prize is given in honor of Leah Meyer Austin, former senior vice president for program development and organizational learning at the Lumina Foundation and emerita director of the ATD Board of Directors, whose visionary leadership shaped the development of Achieving the Dream. Past Leah Meyer Austin Award winners have achieved significant national recognition including Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence winner Miami Dade College, and Aspen Rising Stars Pierce College and Palo Alto College.

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