by Alana J. Mauger
Montgomery County Community College was honored for its ongoing commitment to student access and success on Feb. 24 during the annual Achieving the Dream Strategy Institute in Orlando, Fla. The College was one of two institutions presented with the sixth annual Leah Meyer Austin Award by Achieving the Dream.
The Leah Meyer Austin Award, sponsored by The Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, 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.
Austin, whose visionary leadership shaped the development of Achieving the Dream, is the former Senior Vice President for Program Development and Organizational Learning at the Lumina Foundation, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Achieving the Dream.
Montgomery County Community College, Pennsylvania, and Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC), Massachusetts, were each awarded $25,000 to support their ongoing student success efforts. According to Achieving the Dream, both institutions were recognized for “building whole-college solutions to improve student success and equity, which have resulted in noteworthy increases in student success.”
“Montgomery County Community College takes a holistic approach to student success,” explained Dr. Karen A. Stout, president. “By leveraging data to align our strategic planning efforts and budget decisions with student success goals, we are able to continually make improvements and remove barriers that impact retention and completion. At the same time, we’re able to engage faculty, administrators and staff from across disciplines and departments in our student success work.”
“The College’s selection as a Leah Meyer Austin Award recipient underscores our continued commitment to advance the areas of student access, success and completion that anchor our work as an Achieving the Dream Leader College,” she continued.
In addition to building college-wide solutions and engaging in data-informed decision making, Achieving the Dream commended the College for its work to improve developmental education outcomes, college readiness, and student persistence.
One highlight is the College’s efforts to reduce the number of students who place in developmental English by 31 percent, without impacting their subsequent success in college-level English courses. This was achieved through a combination of adjusting placement cut-off scores, moving from an ACCUPLACER placement test to a WritePlacer exam, and allowing students with SAT scores of 500 and up to enroll directly in college-level English. In fall 2011, more than 900 students benefited from these changes, successfully completing Composition I (ENG 101) at the same rate as those students who placed in college-level English under the old cut score.
MCCC also continues to build momentum in its efforts to improve success in developmental mathematics. The College was previously recognized by Achieving the Dream for the complete redesign of its basic arithmetic curriculum, which increased student success rates by 20 percent and math confidence rates by 20 to 35 percent. MCCC also developed two-week accelerated basic arithmetic and beginning algebra “boot camp” review courses for students whose ACCUPLACER test scores are close to the cutoff. To date, 300 students have completed the accelerated courses, outperforming students who follow the traditional path.
Achieving the Dream also noted MCCC’s efforts to improve the college readiness of students from feeder high schools through a variety of initiatives. Among these is MCCC’s participation in the national Gateway to College Network, designed for young adults ages 16 to 21 who have dropped out of high school or who are significantly behind in credits and are unlikely to graduate. The program enables qualifying students to complete their high school diploma requirements while simultaneously earning college credits toward an associate’s degree or certificate. In addition, MCCC developed a College Pathway Academy for Health Professions in partnership with the Phoenixville School District and Phoenixville Hospital. The Academy enables students to earn college credits in the health sciences while completing their high school graduation requirements.
Another highlight is the College’s success in improve persistence rates for minority students. In 2009, the College first launched its Minority Male Mentoring Program (MMMP) to close the nationally documented achievement gap for African-American male students. The program connects participating students with caring mentors for guidance and support while providing opportunities for civic engagement, academic advisement, personal development and leadership development. Between 2009 and 2013, participants showed a term-to-term persistence rate of close to 80 percent – significantly higher than the 63 percent for non-participants. This spring, the initiative was expanded to include African-American and Latina female students and was renamed the Minority Student Mentoring Initiative (MSMI).
Achieving the Dream, Inc.
Achieving the Dream, Inc. is a national nonprofit leading the nation’s most comprehensive non-governmental reform network for student success in higher education history. The Achieving the Dream National Reform Network, including over 200 institutions, more than 100 coaches and advisors, and 15 state policy teams – working throughout 34 states and the District of Columbia – helps nearly 4 million community college students have a better chance of realizing greater economic opportunity and achieving their dreams.
The Helmsley Charitable Trust
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust aspires to improve lives by supporting effective nonprofits in health, place-based initiatives, and education and human services. Since 2008, when the Trust began its active grantmaking, it has committed more than $1 billion to a wide range of charitable organizations. Through its National Education Program, the Trust views education as a lever to advance both American economic competitiveness and individual social mobility. In K-12, the Trust focuses on ensuring all students graduate high school prepared for college or careers by supporting teacher effectiveness and the adoption and implementation of high academic standards. In postsecondary education, the Trust is primarily interested in increasing the number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates who can participate in high growth sectors of the economy. The Trust also focuses on policy levers that improve postsecondary completion, particularly for underrepresented populations.