Colleges that achieve exceptional outcomes for students go beyond data-driven practice; they have cultures of inquiry and action

Josh WynerVice President, The Aspen Institute

Best Practices of Aspen Top 10 Colleges

If we as a country are to restore the American Dream, broad access institutions (like community colleges) are key.   If we can help a large number of colleges dramatically increase their completion rates, we can make a difference on a large scale.  However, this begs an important question: Is it even possible for a community college can go from average (or even struggling) to one of the best in the country at student success?  Through our 15+ years of working with community colleges we can answer that with a resounding yes.

Here are some of the best practices we’ve learned from working with Aspen Top 10 colleges.  These are not colleges that had decades of success under their belt before being named in the Top 10.   Rather, all of these colleges were struggling and went through an arduous transformation.  For example, Odessa College and Brazosport College were on the brink of being de-funded by the state legislature.  Southwest Texas Junior College was on probation from SACS.   CCC had single-digit graduation rates.

Lessons learned:

  • Odessa College – Graduation is too far away to impact.  Instead focus on indicators that everyone can affect every single day, like engagement with the institution(and especially faculty).   Don’t pilot interventions — go to scale.
  • Southwest Texas Junior College – Focus on the “low hanging fruit” — the students you can save, the changes and interventions that can make easily.  Learn from failure and iterate quickly.  No matter what,  Move with a sense of urgency and purpose.
  • Brazosport College – Create a culture where everyone, from the advisors to the business office, is working together to help students
  • City Colleges of Chicago (Kennedy King) – Provide everyone access to student-level data that they need for student success (in CCC’s case this was all 5,800 faculty and staff).  Democratized data = better decisions = increased student success.

Note: Odessa College holds a regular workshop explaining their High Impact Strategies.

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Rebuilding the American middle class is heavy work.  To make a difference in more students’ lives we need to partner with mission-driven colleges.  If you’re interested let’s talk.

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