Everyone has worth. That is a core value at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), an ATD Leader College of Distinction and the recipient of the 2021 Leah Meyer Austin Award. For Community Colleges Month, we’re highlighting exceptional community colleges in the ATD Network that have demonstrated transformational change in service of equity and student success. This week, we dive into the teams and initiatives that helped NWTC narrow equity gaps and increase student persistence and completion.
In 2009, NWTC began asking itself how it could better embody that driving core value. Was the college leaving anyone behind? How could they find success with every student? NWTC joined the ATD Network in 2010 and began developing the tools they needed to answer those questions.
Since joining the Network, and particularly in the last few years, NWTC has made significant advances in access, persistence, completion, and success for the students it serves. By engaging faculty and staff from across the institution, by creating a culture of evidence driven by data, and by putting equity at the center of each initiative to meet the needs of students, NWTC has profoundly shifted away from the notion of a “college-ready student” and is actively striving to be a “student-ready college.”
Making data work
Though faculty were aligned with NWTC’s student success goals, the college’s data were difficult for staff to find and use. Following ATD’s team approach to institutional change fortified by usable data, NWTC created the Data Jedi Council. The council consolidated resources into a central online source for reports on enrollment, program performance, and other meaningful metrics to support student success. Faculty training, which focused on skills needed to access and understand key data sources, resulted in a universal process to facilitate ongoing improvements known as the FORCE (Focus on Outcomes, Results, Collection, and Evaluation).
Once data were made accessible to faculty across the institution, they became a strong tool to support solutions that fostered substantive gains in the academic lives of the college’s students. NWTC’s approach was successful within the college and eventually scaled statewide: The Wisconsin Technical College System implemented a modified NWTC course for instructors using the FORCE strategy.
Meeting students’ needs
Making a college student-ready starts at the beginning of the student experience. After NWTC created a mandatory student Orientation and Registration (SOAR) session, student feedback prompted them to start offering the registration online as well. The online option added flexibility for students unable to attend in person and for those who want to pause, re-watch, and complete the course at their own pace.
This course, and its flexible virtual option, had significant positive effects for students starting to navigate the college experience. NWTC sent a survey about SOAR Online to students, and found that:
- more than 80 percent said they were very satisfied or extremely satisfied with the course;
- 83 percent said it helped them learn more about NWTC’s student resources, and
- 75 percent said they learned more about paying for college.
The college has also implemented wraparound services to eliminate barriers related to basic needs insecurity, such as an emergency fund, an on-campus food pantry, childcare support and subsidies, and other student-centered measures. As a result of persistent efforts to center equity in student success work, NWTC has narrowed gaps for multiple populations including Pell recipients, part-time students, and student parents.
ATD has worked with NWTC for over ten years to support the college’s mission to become a student-ready institution that affirms their guiding principle: everyone has worth. NWTC continues to make data-informed improvements to the student experience, with measures that include:
- building integrated pathways that guide students through college and all the way to a baccalaureate program or the labor market;
- conducting an in-depth student climate survey to assess the experiences of the diverse student population;
- implementing digital systems to facilitate communication between faculty and students; and most recently
- beginning a shift to eight-week terms, which have demonstrated higher success and completion rates than courses held over 15 weeks.
And the college is seeing results. Fall-to-fall persistence rates rose from 57 percent to 62 percent in a four-year period, the ratio of completed college-level credits with a C– or higher increased from 71 to 75 percent, the proportion of students who earned a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting at NWTC increased from 27 to 34 percent, and in all these measures equity gaps were narrowed (for student parents, part-time students, and/or Pell recipients).
NWTC is not only building momentum for the education and professional pathways of its students, but for the capacity of its staff and faculty to continue fostering an atmosphere that allows all its students to succeed.
To learn more about the excellent ongoing work at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, you can read the case study which details why the college was the deserving recipient of the 2021 Leah Meyer Austin Award.