Kresge-funded centers in California, Connecticut and New Jersey make for a 7-state network working for access and college completion.
While individual community colleges explore new ways to foster student success, a growing initiative is adapting those efforts into statewide programs to attack the knotted problems of student access, retention and graduation.
Through newly created statewide “Student Success Centers,” community colleges are better coordinating these success-focused initiatives. Usually organized through a state community college association these centers have staffs, budgets and advisory boards that create, implement, connect and promote programs and policies.
Kresge grants will create centers in California and Connecticut and support a newly launched center in New Jersey. Those new centers will join Kresge-funded centers in Arkansas, Michigan, Ohio and Texas, all founded since 2010. The national nonprofit Jobs for the Future has helped to launch each center and leads a cross-state network to foster collaboration.
“These centers build a cohesive approach to engagement, learning and policy advocacy across each state’s two-year institutions,” says Caroline Altman Smith, senior program officer in Kresge’s Education Program. “The institutions then can spend their resources more effectively and create reforms that help the most students possible earn postsecondary credentials.”
Kresge works to expand opportunity for low-income people in America’s cities. Its Education Program promotes postsecondary access and success for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students.
A report last year from Jobs for the Future, Joining Forces, puts the centers in the context of the growing college completion movement, citing U.S. Department of Education statistics that in 2008 only 26 percent of first-time beginning community college students attained a degree within five years.
The report notes that as the movement has taken root, a “critical mass” of community colleges in each state has joined – with Achieving the Dream as a common thread – underscoring the importance of collaboration.
The new centers selected “each demonstrated a clear vision of a statewide policy agenda to increase community college persistence and completion, as well as the capacity for meaningful data analysis and strong commitment from a broad group of stakeholders,” says Gretchen Schmidt, Jobs for the Future’s program director for postsecondary state policy.
“At the state level, there’s often a gap between what state policymakers are doing and how that translates into institutional action,” says Chris Baldwin, executive director of the Michigan Center for Student Success at the Michigan Community College Association. “These centers help the colleges to not be so isolated.”
The Michigan center, for example, has taken a four-pronged approach. First, the center serves as a convener to get leaders and administrators at the state’s 28 community colleges to meet, discuss and obtain technical assistance and sometimes grants. As an example, Baldwin cites Project Win-Win, an effort that helped community colleges identify students who had accumulated sufficient credit to be awarded credentials but neither realized or been notified of the fact.
Michigan’s Student Success Center also helps colleges use data in more effective ways, help coordinate research at the institutional and state levels, and seek to determine how state policies can make campus environments more conducive for student success.
Beyond the policy and program details, Kresge’s Smith points out that the biggest appeal of the centers is the creation of a small staff in each state “who wake up every morning focused on nothing but student success issues at community colleges across the state.”