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Achieve the Dream committee wants to help every student graduate

April Hamlin, Caroline Hopkins, Ali Mageehon and Emery Smith are collecting ideas for how to improve student success.
Photo provided by Caroline Hopkins
April Hamlin, Caroline Hopkins, Ali Mageehon and Emery Smith are collecting ideas for how to improve student success.

Graduating from college is an important milestone. Many would say it is achieving a dream.

Advising Specialist Caroline Hopkins and a team of UCC staff members are looking to break down the barriers that stand in the way of that dream by implementing new ideas and using data collected from those changes to implement college improvements that will help more students graduate. This work is part of the Achieving the Dream program, funded partially through the Lumina Foundation.

 Achieving the Dream programs focus on making well-researched, effective changes at local campuses so that students are better served.  “Achieve the Dream is a national initiative to encourage data driven decisions,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins and Ali Mageehon, dean of Academic Support, are co-leads in the UCC ATD team.

ATD is in its second year on campus; 2012-13 was the planning year for changes initiated this year such as the new mandatory student orientation.

The goal of the mandatory orientation is to better prepare students for their first term on campus in order to increase their eventual graduation success rates.

The Community College Research Center reports that “a quarter of students [nationally] who enroll in the fall semester do not return in the spring. Of those who do enroll in the spring, one fifth do not return for the subsequent fall semester.”

Lumina also reports on its website that too many students fail to complete;  “only 26 percent of African-Americans and 29 percent of Hispanic students attained a certificate or degree within six years. This compares with 38 percent of white students and 39 percent of Asian students.”

Terrance Bradford, director of learning skills, is also implementing changes to help with student success. He has put cohort groups of students through learning skills courses together.  Hopkins explained these cohort groups are designed to better prepare students for college level course work.

ASUCC Vice President Charles Martin expressed concern that students are not getting enough basic skills education before entering technical programs, such as the automotive program, and several campus departments are relying on ATD to help students with these basic skills in order to be successful.

“With these cohort groups, students move through all their lower level [remedial] courses together. We will study to see if these groups help students to achieve success,” Hopkins said.

Martin believes these groups will be successful. “These groups will help students to be more comfortable and work together. Breaking down in smaller groups, you are able to dig deeper and find out more,” Martin said.

The newly formed Peer Mentoring group will also help “at risk” students achieve success, according to Hopkins, and hopefully cut down on academic probation.

Between 100 and 150 students are placed on academic probation per term, according to Martin.

With several of these new practices, Hopkins hopes to see non-cognitive domain skills increase. “Non-cognitive domain [relates to] the skills that affect your education. Time management, managing money, study skills — these are things that some students need help with,” Hopkins said. “We can’t just focus on school.”

Thinking Hard!
Aria Blackwood / Mainstream

Five members of the Achieving the Dream team attended a conference in Orlando, Fl. in late February. Hopkins; Mageehon; April Hamlin, director of adult basic education; Emery Smith, sociology instructor; and Roxanne Kelly, vice president of instruction attended a variety of classes and workshops with community college staff members from across the country.

While at the conference, Hopkins encountered a testimony of a student that she hopes to be able to bring to campus as a part of the Courageous Conversations program. 

The Courageous Conversations program is training that Hopkins and her team hope to bring to UCC within the next couple years. The program is designed to help students have difficult conversations about the barriers that stand between them and success.

“People are afraid to communicate. I go to visit many campuses, and people are droids. People don’t see anything outside of their own realm,” Martin said.

The team is currently working on applying for grants to bring the program to campus.

“I hoping to be able to reach out and help everybody.  It will have to come from student feedback in order to achieve that,” Martin said.

After the school year finishes, the ATD team will start their reflection stage over the summer when they will review the data they collected all year related to student success and their new practices.