Arkansas' development of a System-Level Strategy for Community College Student Success is being shared as a model for success among community colleges nationwide.

Arkansas’ development of a System-Level Strategy for Community College Student Success is being shared as a model for success among community colleges nationwide.

Arkansas and its Achieving the Dream Colleges, including Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas (PCCUA), have stepped out of their comfort zones to address institutional issues that have sparked state-wide reformation resulting in more successful student outcomes.

Working together and in various areas of instruction and advising in their respective institutions, these Arkansas community colleges have devised the System-Level Strategy for Community College Student Success, which has increased their graduation and transfer rates by five percent from 2006-2012.

A recent report released by Achieving the Dream detailed the development, implementation, and preliminary impact of the Arkansas System-Level Strategy for Student Success. Additional reform efforts focusing on student success and college completion are underway throughout the state.

PCCUA has effectively used Achieving the Dream, a national community college initiative to improve student success, to restructure how it serves students. PCCUA has garnered national attention for its reinvented approach to teaching students and for its methods of focusing on student success.

Commenting on the revitalized approach, PCCUA Chancellor Dr. Steven Murray said, “Early in our Achieving the Dream work, we came to understand that most of our faculty and staff did not understand our students. Most of our students are the product of generational poverty; most of our faculty and staff are not.”

PCCUA was also commended for the way it responded to this institutional issue by engaging its faculty and staff in group reading and open discussions for a year concerning racism and poverty.

“We came to see that many of the issues that we had regarded as student issues were also organizational issues and that we could change how we responded to them,” Murray said.

PCCUA has changed its institutional approach from focusing on enrollment and instruction to a more direct focus on students and their success. Its overall plan included interventions in developmental education coursework including the implementation of supplemental instruction labs, increased contact hours, creation of an additional developmental reading level, and professional development to more substantially engage faculty in improving student learning outcomes. Also implemented was an intrusive advising system and enhanced student support services.

“Our renewed commitment to our students has become a part of the cultural air we breathe and has changed the way we see ourselves and define our work,” said Murray.

PCCUA’s results have been impressive, showing that between 2004 and 2011, the number of freshmen returning as sophomores rose from 33-41 percent and showed, specifically, that the supplemental learning labs raised course-completion rates in six out of seven courses, and, in one particular case, by 19 percent. Further evidence revealed that PCCUA’s graduation rate increased by 10 percent between the cohort entering in 2001 and the one entering in 2007.