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State Student Success Centers promote collaboration

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​Community college leaders take part in a summit hosted by the Michigan Success Center.

​The Student Success Centers initiative brings together all the community colleges in a state to build a coherent approach to improve student completion and persistence based on best practices.

The program was launched by Jobs for the Future and the Kresge Foundation in four states that do not have a strong centralized community college system: Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Arkansas. The Student Success Centers in those states serve as a separate entity within the state’s association of community colleges.

The idea is to create “a centralized hub of energy, convening and policy development around student success,” said Caroline Altman Smith, senior program officer at the Kresge Foundation, which awarded each center a $250,000 annual grant for two years. 

The centers host summits for college leaders, carry out collective fundraising, inform policy initiatives and serve as state policy partners for the Achieving the Dream program.

Kresge announced plans to fund three more centers this month. A new Student Success Center in New Jersey will be housed at the state’s community college association, but the other two follow a different model. The California center will be a joint partnership of the Community College Chancellor’s Office and the Foundation for California Community Colleges, and the Connecticut center will be housed at the state’s Board of Regents for Higher Education.  

Leveraging effective practices

The centers provide “a unique opportunity to leverage and scale effective college practices across multiple institutions,” said Gretchen Schmidt, program director for postsecondary state policy at Jobs for the Future. “They can bring more people to the table from colleges with similar initiatives to create a learning community within the state focused on student completion and success.”

“It’s also a way to establish an entity in a state with a decentralized structure that can attract funding from foundations that want to invest in more than one institution,” she said.

The goal is to connect dots on all student success initiatives that might be underway in a state, added Smith.

Learn more about the Student Success Centers initiative at an April 6 session at the American Association of Community Colleges' Annual Convention in Washington, D.C.

“Each state doesn’t necessarily have the bandwidth to figure out what is being learned, so all community colleges in the state can benefit from the initiatives being carried out in the state’s Student Success Center,” she said.

Smith sees the centers as serving a “knowledge management role” by determining what community colleges have learned from their attempts to improve student success and spread that knowledge to other community colleges in the state.

On the same page

Michigan doesn’t have a governing authority to bring colleges together, so its new center will provide “a venue for colleges to collaborate that didn’t exist before,” said Christopher Baldwin, executive director of the Michigan Center for Student Success. “That’s been a significant step forward.”

For example, he noted that nearly all the community colleges in Michigan have signed on to the American Association of Community Colleges' Voluntary Framework of Accountability.

“There’s no way that would have happened without the Success Center — not because they are opposed to it, but because the colleges are so autonomous. Now they understand they need to act collectively.”

Baldwin said the Michigan Success Center conducts two large summits every year and supports a network of people who come together regularly to discuss such issues as assessment and placement, student mobility among institutions and financial aid.

The center also serves as a point of contact for grant opportunities to support such projects as Credit When It’s Due, which promotes reverse transfers, and Project Win Win, which encourages former students who’ve earned 50 or more credits to get their associate degree.

The Michigan center is also taking an active role in advocacy on student success policy — on such issues as transfer, articulation and dual enrollment — on a state level.

Joining forces

The Texas Success Center was just launched in October but has already gotten started on a number of fronts. Several leadership teams composed of practitioners and experts from across the state have been formed to address college readiness, transfer and articulation, measuring and funding success and workforce issues. Another team is focusing on professional development across all of those areas.

The team dealing with measuring success is developing recommendations for implementing a new Texas law that requires a portion of funding for community colleges to be based on a set of metrics, said the center’s executive director, Angela Oriano, who's based at the Texas Association of Community Colleges.

The readiness team will help community colleges prepare for a new statewide assessment for incoming college students.

“Given the profile of the typical college student and how competitive our state colleges are, this is a big issue for community colleges,” Oriano said. 

The team will make recommendations to help students get through development courses, catalog what colleges are already doing and determine which pre-assessment and non-course competency-based options are most effective.

Including K-12

Another state law requires high schools to develop college readiness courses, so the Texas Success Center will convene a task force for community college, K-12 and education policy experts to make recommendations on the content and structure of those courses.

In addition, the center is planning a “Pathways to Progress” institute in September and is inviting each Texas community college to send a team of three to five people. The event will comprise three “mini-institutes” on the state’s new readiness test; the implementation of Mathways, which has been adopted by all Texas community colleges; and the Texas Completes initiative.

Each of these sessions will include “guided focus time for the teams to complete an action plan to take back to their campus,” Oriano said.
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