Achieving the Dream

ATD initiative benefits students
Achieving the Dream

Improving student success is at the heart of a program currently being implemented at UCC.  Achieving the Dream (ATD) is a national initiative to help campuses create an educational culture free of structural barriers that could hinder success for students, particularly low-income and minority students. 

Caroline Hopkins, advising specialist for TRIO and an ATD team member, describes Achieving the Dream as a “process that is research-based and proven to work to objectively identify barriers inherent in our college system.”

UCC is one of approximately 200 other community colleges across the country that has joined ATD.  According to ATD’s website, it is “the most comprehensive non-governmental reform network for student success in higher education history.”  This national initiative is supported by the Lumina Foundation for Education.  

“The program is in its very early stages at UCC with its official roll out scheduled for winter term,” said Mark Williams, dean of Career and Technical Education and one of the campus’s ATD team members. 

The initiative aims to help colleges build a “culture of evidence” by collecting data that will enable college staff to identify barriers that prevent students from successfully completing their degrees or certificate programs.  Community colleges can then develop strategies based on that data to improve student outcomes and increase student success or completion rates.

The initiative “emphasizes the use of data to promote change,” said Hopkins.

The program builds on itself with the first year being primarily about data collection and planning.  “Already, we have some initial data on students,” said Hopkins. 

Later, the ATD team plans to get focus groups of students to talk with them more in-depth about the particular challenges UCC students are facing.  They also hope that staff members will participate by discussing any possible student barriers they have personally seen.  “Eventually we hope to involve every person on campus,” said Hopkins.

“We can then take that information and try to evaluate what issues at UCC need to be addressed and apply it to the framework ATD provides,” Hopkins added.

One of Hopkins objectives is to get as many staff members as possible to read the book Bridges Out of Poverty by Philip E. DeVol, Ruby K. Payne, Terie Dreussi Smith.  The book addresses the economic class structure in America and the hidden rules often associated within that structure.  It also provides models for change. 

“Schools often operate in the culture of the middle class, and there are silent rules to that culture,” said Hopkins.  “Students that come from the culture of poverty often reach barriers without really knowing it.”  Hopkins intends to apply for a grant to offset the cost of the book, so she can make it available for anyone interested.

The second year of the program will focus more on policy changes.  “We want to be sure our policies support student success,” said Williams.  Although ATD is focused on disadvantaged students, Williams points out that “ultimately it helps all students.”

There is an additional benefit to the data collected.  Williams said, “A lot of data is required for accreditation.  ATD will help satisfy the data needed.” 

UCC joined this initiative as part of a consortium of eight rural community colleges.  By joining the consortium, the college was able to save a substantial amount on ATD membership, said Williams.  ATD will provide the college with two coaches – a leadership coach and a data coach.  The coaches are there to help speed the process of implementing the program and assist with any of its more challenging aspects. UCC will share their coaches with the other members of the consortium.

While the ATD initiative focuses on individual student success, it is also part of a much larger objective.  ATD’s website states “for the first time in US history, the current generation of college age Americans will be less educated than their parents’ generation.”  ATD also said on their website that “A healthy economy and democracy depend on an educated citizenry. . .  More than just hopes and dreams are at stake: the very foundation of our economy depends on increasing student success.”

The Mainstream is a student publication of Umpqua Community College.