It’s the week after the week-long Achieving the Dream Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, and I’m back in TargetX’s Philadelphia office, reflecting on the experience. Over 2,200 attendees were at the Community College focused, DREAM 2020 conference from across the globe. Over 48 states and Washington D.C., 350 institutions, and nearly 160 different organizations, including TargetX, were represented – all with a focus on Student Success and Equity in their minds and hearts. I say in “mind and heart” because, throughout the week, eight courageous DREAM Scholars shared their motivating, and at times tearful, stories of how their Community College is changing their lives and empowering them to succeed as a student.
This week, I’ve had time to reflect on a series of powerful moments filled with energy and passion that came from the conference. One of those moments came from James Fallows, Generalist and Co-Author of Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America. Fallows kicked off the event by saying, “Community Colleges are the greatest institutions, with the greatest potential for how people look back on this era… Our country needs you!” This mindset set the stage for all in attendance as they proudly shared their institution’s data on the success of innovative student support pathways and initiatives.
Though there were over 100 sessions and workshops held throughout the week, one remains stuck in my mind: Guided Pathways: Early Experiences of Entering Students, facilitated by Dr. Melissa Gregory, Associate Senior Vice President for Student Affairs at Montgomery College (Maryland), and Dr. Michael Bohlig from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE). The session focused on best practices for retaining entering students at two-year public institutions. Based on research from the National Student Clearinghouse, the presenters stated that nearly 50% of entering students do not return for their second year for a variety of reasons, including working full-time, caring for dependents, lack of finances, etc. At Montgomery College (MC), in working to improve overall student success, particularly for the defined cohort of students, they developed a Student Success Inventory with four priorities: Start Smart, Guided Pathways, Comprehensive Advising, and Comprehensive Scheduling for Student Success.
Combined, the four priorities at MC do not just focus on students graduating, it also focuses on ensuring their degrees or certifications align with current industry trends and four-year schools; think workforce development and seamless transfers to four-year institutions. Additionally, the college is making sure the right support systems are in place for the students at the right time. The support services start from the Connection stage of the student lifecycle (interest to application) and progress through the Completion stage (last 25% of requirements to graduation). Throughout the conference, the importance of offering the right support systems at the correct times was highlighted over and over. However, each student is different, and as Kendall Stephens, a DREAM Scholar attending the Community College of Philadelphia reminded everyone, listening to students, authentically, to understand their specific needs, is essential because “when you blow us off, we blow away.”
Overall, the AtD, DREAM 2020 conference was inspiring and informative. It confirmed for me that the work TargetX is doing to improve our understanding of community colleges aligns with the current and future trends within this unique segment of higher education. As we continue to develop our tools and educate our teams on best practices specific to community colleges, it is our mission to help colleges promote equity goals by helping them to redesign the student experience – by “Combining disparate initiative and disconnected services and departments into a cohesive strategy individualized for each student” (Holistic Student Support Redesign, Achieving the Dream, v.3).
Ultimately, TargetX is working to make every student a success, whether that means graduating, transferring, or gaining that workforce credential.
To learn more about the work TargetX is doing with community colleges, please visit www.targetx.com/community-colleges. We’ll also be at the upcoming American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), 100th Annual Convention in National Harbor, MD, March 28-30, 2020 – stop by our table and meet our team or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to meet at the Convention!