Two Texas colleges win ATD’s top award

It wasn’t so long ago that Texarkana College was on the verge of closing and Odessa College struggled with retention because students were dropping out of school for jobs in the oil and gas industries.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when the two Texas community colleges received the 2018 Leah Meyer Austin Award, the highest honor awarded by community college reform leader Achieving the Dream (ATD).

The award recognizes institutions that have demonstrated outstanding progress in designing a student-focused culture and aligning institutional strategies to promote student success. This year’s award, sponsored by the Kresge Foundation, comes with a $25,000 prize for each college.

“Winning the Leah Meyer Austin Award means a college has made sweeping changes in culture, policies and practices that improve their students’ experiences and lead to measurably better outcomes,” ATD President Karen A. Stout said in a press release. “Odessa and Texarkana College have seen dramatic increases in student success because they took a holistic approach to reform and carefully tracked the impact of the new approach.”

The story in the numbers

As a result of its efforts to increase student success, Texarkana College tripled its three-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students by 23 percentage points, from 10 percent to 33 percent for the 2008 and 2014 cohorts, respectively. The college’s equity gaps are narrowing, too. For example, the three-year graduation rates among black students increased by 23 percentage points, from 4 percent to 27 percent for the 2008 and 2014 cohorts, respectively.

Texarkana College made a commitment to evidence-based decision-making, which led to improved faculty professional development, redesigned curriculum, re-engineered enrollment and student services, and a new enterprise resource planning system.

At Odessa, the college nearly doubled its three-year graduation rate by 11 percentage points, from 12 percent and 23 percent for the 2009 cohort and the 2014 cohort, respectively. The college also increased graduation rates for Hispanic students by 15 percentage points, from 10 percent for the 2009 cohort to 25 percent for the 2014 cohort.  Now, with Hispanic students graduating in higher numbers than white students, the college has closed its equity gap.

Odessa College began a program called the Drop Rate Improvement Program to strengthen the connection between each course instructor and student. The college also reduced the length of each semester from 16 to eight weeks to accommodate students’ schedules and create and sustain momentum toward completion.

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