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Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count Frequently Asked Questions

Goals and Sponsors Data Collection and Analyses Other Elements of AtD
College Eligibility and Timeline Evaluation AtD Partners
Expectations and Requirements Policy For More Information…


Goals and Sponsors

What is the Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count movement? What are the goals of the movement?

Achieving the Dream addresses a national imperative: to increase success for the growing number of students for whom community colleges are the point of entry into higher education. The movement is particularly focused on improving graduation, transfer, and success rates among low-income students and students of color. Data-driven decision-making will be key to attaining this goal.

AtD leader college logoWho sponsors the Achieving the Dream movement and what other organizations are involved?

Achieving the Dream is funded by Lumina Foundation for Education and managed by MDC, Inc. Other national partners include the following:

American Association of Community Colleges
Community College Leadership Program, the University of Texas-Austin
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
Futures Project, Brown University
Jobs for the Future
Public Agenda
Other prominent national and regional organizations, as well as other funders, will join the effort in the months and years ahead.

Lumina Foundation for Education is committed to improving student access and educational attainment nationwide. Recognizing that community colleges serve high concentrations of historically underserved students, Lumina Foundation places special emphasis on encouraging student success in these institutions.

What are the expected outcomes of Achieving the Dream?

Achieving the Dream expects to bring about change within institutions and in state and federal policy. The movement also seeks to increase knowledge about policies, programs, structures, and services that increase student success and to increase public support for raising postsecondary attainment levels. Achieving the Dream activities will be aimed at achieving the following outcomes for students:

After four years, Achieving the Dream colleges will show improved success rates for low-income students and students of color. An increased percentage of low-income students and students of color will:

  • Successfully complete the courses they take,

  • Advance from remedial to credit-bearing courses,

  • Enroll in and successfully complete gateway courses,

  • Re-enroll from one semester to the next, and

  • Earn degrees and certificates.

After eight years, a substantially higher percentage of low-income students and students of color at Achieving the Dream colleges will experience success, as measured by the bullets above; in addition, their rates of transfer to four-year institutions will increase.

After 12 years, success rates for low-income students and students of color will be increased at other community colleges as well.

College Eligibility and Timeline

How is eligibility for participation in Achieving the Dream determined?

Achieving the Dream seeks to work in states that have a) a significant number of colleges serving high proportions of low-income students and students of color and b) the potential for strengthening policies that support Achieving the Dream’s goals. Approximately 100 colleges in five states are eligible to compete for the first round of grants. The states are: Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. We expect the movement to spread to other states and other colleges over time.

College eligibility is based on two criteria: percentage of minority enrollment (specifically African-American, Latino, and Native American students) and percentage of first-time, full-time students receiving Pell grants. Achieving the Dream eligible colleges are those with minority enrollments of 33 percent or more and/or Pell enrollment of 50 percent or more as reported in the 2002-2003 IPEDS data. In addition, participating colleges must be regionally accredited, public, associate degree-granting institutions.


Expectations and Requirements

What will the work look like at the institutional level during the first year?

Each Achieving the Dream college will form several teams to carry out the work of movement.

A core team will develop a vision for and oversee and integrate the Achieving the Dream work. The core team will develop and manage a process for college-wide dialogue about Achieving the Dream data findings, goals, and strategies. It will work with and through the college councils, departments, and divisions to adopt priorities for improving student success, especially among low-income students and students of color.

A data team will conduct in-depth examinations of data on student outcomes to diagnose institutional strengths and weaknesses in serving low-income students and students of color. The data team will develop simple graphic presentations to share with the core team, faculty, key academic and student support staff and administration. In addition, this team will work with the core team to recommend institutional priorities for strategy development. Colleges will engage students and the community in discussion of the data analysis and proposed strategies for improving institutional and student performance.

Colleges will identify up to five priority areas for improving student outcomes. Colleges will adapt strategies from other institutions or invent new approaches to address their Achieving the Dream priority areas.

Colleges will integrate Achieving the Dream plans and priorities into their institutional planning, budgeting, and resource allocation processes. This will mean securing the support and commitment of the president’s leadership group. This is a critical step because Achieving the Dream priorities and strategies must be aligned with a college’s strategic plan and resource allocation if we hope to institutionalize Achieving the Dream activities.

Each college will determine specific student success objectives, and each core team will identify indicators of progress toward those objectives.

By May 2005, colleges will have developed comprehensive action plans and proposals for implementation funding from Lumina Foundation for Education.

Will other support in addition to the investment grants be available to colleges?

Yes. Each college will be matched with a coach who will work with the core team to fulfill its mission. Coaches will be available for up to 12 days during the period from July 2004 through April 2005. In addition, a data facilitator will be available for a similar number of days to help the data team analyze, interpret, and report campus data to the core team and other faculty, staff, administrators, and community stakeholders.

Other events are scheduled to support the work of the colleges. A data workshop will be held in July to prepare data teams for their work. A strategy institute will be held in January 2005 to help colleges learn about and design strategies that address their change priorities.

How will a college benefit from participating in the Achieving the Dream movement?

Achieving the Dream colleges will receive support in developing a "culture of evidence" – using data to identify problems and measure progress toward success. Achieving the Dream colleges will make lasting changes in policies, structures, programs, and services. Additionally, colleges in the Achieving the Dream project will gain expertise in the area of improving success among diverse student populations and become leaders in that realm.

How will the coaches, data facilitators, and technical advisors support the work of colleges?

The coach will help the core team stay on track and develop the capacities they need to reach their goals. The coach will help the core team design and carry out an inclusive process of self examination and planning. The coach will prod the team to look at college performance data with critical honesty and help the team focus on priorities that have the potential to lift institutional and student performance to new levels. The coach will also help the team engage in “reflective practice” about what is and is not working and why, and point the team to technical assistance and learning resources that can help the college achieve its goals. The coach will work with the core team and the college leadership to align Achieving the Dream goals with institutional goals and integrate Achieving the Dream into the core of college life.

The data facilitator will help the data team collect, analyze, interpret, and report campus data to the core team and other faculty, staff, administrators, and community stakeholders. The data facilitator will suggest sources of data for analysis and help the data team discover which students are doing well and which ones are not doing so well and why. The facilitator will help the data team examine institutional practices, beliefs, structures, and related factors that promote existing patterns of student attainment, and suggest ways to share the conclusions of the data team with the core team and other college leadership. The data facilitator will work closely with the coach to assure that the faculty and staff who will be expected to implement reforms are part of the assessment and planning processes.

Technical advisors will be available to help colleges use existing data storage and reporting systems to meet Achieving the Dream’s data requirements. In the future, it is anticipated that assistance will be available to help colleges design communication and community engagement strategies.

Who will make up the several campus teams?

The core team will include, at a minimum, the college president, the person responsible for institutional research or institutional effectiveness, chief academic officer, chief student services officer, faculty responsible for programs and curricula in key areas such as developmental education, mathematics and English, and other members as appropriate. By Fall 2004, the core team will be expanded to include more members of the college faculty and staff, students and the community. Five members of the core team, including the president, institutional research officer, and key faculty leader will participate in the Summer Institute.

The data team will include the person responsible for institutional research or institutional effectiveness plus faculty and other staff who work directly with students in developmental education, general education, ESL, student services, financial aid, and other crucial areas or disciplines identified by each college.

How will the community be involved?

Each college will develop strategies for securing input and support from the community and from students. Achieving the Dream colleges will need community support to make long-term, sustained progress toward the movement's goals. Achieving the Dream will help colleges incorporate community perspectives into their institutional plans. It will help colleges work collaboratively with employers, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, public agencies, college students, and families on community-based efforts to promote student success.

Can multiple-campus colleges implement Achieving the Dream at only one campus?

Yes, and for large colleges this may be an advisable start-up strategy. The college will need to be able to separate and report student data for students at the participating campus. Over time, colleges should strive to spread Achieving the Dream to all campuses.

Data Collection and Analysis

Why is data analysis so important?

Achieving the Dream funders and partners believe that data analysis is fundamental for effective institutional decision-making. Although colleges collect and report a wide-range of data for institutional management, state and federal governments, and accreditation agencies, too often these data are disconnected and underused. Achieving the Dream colleges will use data on student outcomes to diagnose areas that need improvement, generate the institutional will for change, and assess the impact of the changes on students. College teams will use data to mobilize broad participation, to guide and assess their actions, and to shape policies and practices that support students’ academic and career attainment.

What data must a college collect?

All participating colleges are required to provide certain data each semester through 2010. In the first year, required data include items that are available from existing administrative records (including transcripts) or that are already collected by colleges and submitted to IPEDS (including Student Right To Know information). These data will be used by the data teams for analysis and will inform the college’s action plan.

Colleges are required to provide student-record data (with unique, non-Social Security Number identifiers) to Achieving the Dream for evaluation and analysis across all participating colleges. Aggregated institutional data, rather than individual student data, will be available via a secured web site for use by participating colleges and Achieving the Dream partner organizations.

In year one (2004-2005), the required data are:

  • Demographic data – sex, age and race/ethnicity;

  • Zip code – with a socioeconomic status proxy, if possible, by the college;

  • Academic preparation – high school diploma, GED or other; date of receipt of high school degree; admission test result; remediation referral status; previous college credits transferred; previous postsecondary degree or certificate;

  • Student performance – number of credits enrolled and completed each semester, developmental education enrollment and completion each semester, gateway course enrollment and completion each semester (e.g., college algebra or college English) and grades each semester in developmental education and gateway courses;
    Financial aid – application and receipt status first semester only, total amount of grant aid and loan aid by source each semester; and

  • Outcomes – degree or certificate attainment, transferred to other college, if available.

In year one, colleges also will be asked to provide data for cohorts from the two prior years (2002-2003 and 2003-2004), to create a baseline for trend analysis.

Additional data elements may be required in future years. These elements will be determined with input from participating colleges.

Aren’t student-record data protected under FERPA?

Yes. FERPA protects the privacy of students; however, FERPA also allows colleges to use student-record data for purposes of institutional improvement. Technical assistance will be provided to colleges, if needed, to create student-record databases (stripped of all identifying information) for use during the movement. A confidentiality agreement is required between participating colleges and designated Achieving the Dream partners and consultants who will assist colleges in this process. (Student Record Data Confidentiality Policy)

What if a college cannot produce the data required by Achieving the Dream?

We recognize that in year one, some colleges will not be able to provide all the required data. Data facilitators and technical assistance providers will work with colleges to use existing data storage and reporting systems to meet as many of Achieving the Dream’s data requirements as possible. In future years, all colleges will be expected to provide all the required data.

Is the data work at colleges limited to the data elements required by Achieving the Dream?

No. Colleges may choose, and will be encouraged, to analyze additional data not required by Achieving the Dream. If colleges choose to analyze non-required data elements, they must still report the required data each semester.


How will the Achieving the Dream movement be evaluated?

There will be two distinct parts to the Achieving the Dream evaluation:

The early phase of Achieving the Dream implementation will be documented and assessed by MDRC.

A summative evaluation will measure impact on the target population. MDRC is conducting a formative evaluation of how the Achieving the Dream movement is unfolding. MDRC’s research includes describing and assessing how Lumina and its partners develop Achieving the Dream, what decisions they reach, and what activities they undertake. MDRC will also describe and assess the baseline characteristics of the participating colleges, their institutional motivations for joining Achieving the Dream and their early experiences with the movement. By late 2005, MDRC will complete a plan for a summative evaluation that will look at student outcomes and how they change over time.

Will colleges be required to participate in the evaluation?

Yes. During the initial year, MDRC will gather and review information on the community colleges targeted for participation in Achieving the Dream, and then use purposeful sampling to select five colleges for documentation-related site visits. The visits, to be scheduled during January—March 2005, are intended to provide a local perspective on the problems that Achieving the Dream is addressing and the opportunities and challenges the movement presents to institutions.

In subsequent years, all participating colleges will be expected to provide data that reflect student performance and attainment and to share information about both their successes and their challenges. The focus of the evaluation will not be on individual campuses; rather it will be on the movement as a whole.


What is the Achieving the Dream movement’s approach to policy change?

The Achieving the Dream partners believe that changes in state and federal laws, administrative policies, and funding priorities can make it easier for community colleges to improve student performance and attainment. Moreover, when enough colleges can demonstrate ways to increase student success, there will be greater willingness to adopt policies and practices supportive of community college efforts. As a result, the policy component of Achieving the Dream will focus on state policy in the states where participating colleges are located and also on national policy.

What will the state policy work look like?

There will be two components: 1) research to identify and disseminate promising policies that states can adapt to their own environments; and 2) in each state, the identification, formation, convening, and staffing of a state leadership team to promote policy innovations that can help community colleges address student success more effectively.

The state teams will include community college system leaders; leaders from individual colleges; representatives of the executive and legislative branches of government; key individuals from business, foundations and community-based organizations; and other stakeholders who want to see improved outcomes for low-income students and students of color. A policy-oriented organization within each Achieving the Dream state will coordinate the leadership team's work to bring about change in state policy.

What does Achieving the Dream hope to accomplish through its state policy work?

The ultimate goal is to change state policies—including legislation, administrative rules, and resource allocations—to make it easier for community colleges in the state to improve their programs, services, and results for historically underserved students. Examples of policy issues include: tuition, financial aid, and college financing; student support services; transfer and articulation with four-year institutions; developmental education; adult education; workforce development and accountability; and performance-based funding. Particular emphasis will be placed on aligning the state's community college data collection requirements with Achieving the Dream's goal of using data to move community colleges toward higher rates of student success.

To achieve significant policy change, we will use a staged process: first, raise awareness and understanding of the need for state action; then, make efforts to influence policy-makers. Specifically, we will encourage them to consider and adopt proposed policy innovations to help more disadvantaged students enroll and succeed in college.

How will Achieving the Dream colleges be involved in the state policy work?

In each Achieving the Dream state, presidents, trustees, and others at participating colleges will have an opportunity to be involved in the state-level policy work. Leaders from some or all of the Achieving the Dream colleges will be invited to participate on the state team, depending on the number of Achieving the Dream colleges in each state. In addition to formal team membership, presidents and other college leaders will have many opportunities to help the team define and advance the policy agenda with state officials.

How will state team members be selected?

Key community college system and institutional leaders in the state, as well as others involved in higher education and community college policy research or advocacy, will be consulted about team composition. By September 2004, an inclusive, balanced team that is knowledgeable, motivated, connected, and strategic about how best to promote and accomplish policy change in that state will be identified.

What responsibilities and time commitment will be expected of state team members?

State team members will be expected to participate in daylong quarterly team meetings: twice a year in state and twice a year in interstate meetings that bring together the leadership teams from all Achieving the Dream states. In addition, state team members will be expected to participate as needed to develop a state policy agenda and then to influence state policy-makers to implement that agenda.

How will the team get its work done?

In each state, an organization or public agency will coordinate the state policy work. This organization will be knowledgeable about issues related to community colleges in the state and well-positioned and well-respected among policy-makers and opinion leaders. This organization also must have the capacity and desire to manage the state policy work. The staff and leadership of this entity—which might be a state community college system office, another higher education organization or office, a not-for-profit research or policy organization, or some other organization—will work closely with Achieving the Dream partners to define an agenda, set priorities, plan strategy, and promote specific policy changes that can help community colleges improve outcomes for historically underserved populations.

What resources will be available to support the state policy teams?

The host organization in each state will receive an annual grant of $75,000 for up to four years to support the state policy work. The grant can be used to support staff who will work on the movement, as well as travel and other expenses associated with participation in Achieving the Dream. Continuation of grants from year to year will depend on the state team's progress toward achieving its goals. The movement encourages state teams to seek additional funds locally for support of state teams.

What is the focus of Achieving the Dream federal policy efforts?

Achieving the Dream will engage policy-makers at the federal level. In the first year or two, efforts will focus on informing federal decision-makers and national opinion leaders about the progress of Achieving the Dream and the issues that states are grappling with. Achieving the Dream will also develop relationships with regional accreditation agencies and explore how they might create incentives and accountability for improving student outcomes at community colleges with particular emphasis on low-income students and students of color, while maintaining access for these populations.


Other Elements of AtD

Will Achieving the Dream address more than institutional and policy change?

Yes. Achieving the Dream will also seek to build public support for the Achieving the Dream agenda and to generate and disseminate knowledge about community college student outcomes and ways to improve student success rates.

Why a public engagement strategy?

Despite Americans’ widely shared values of equity and opportunity, the public is not widely aware of or concerned about the low rates of postsecondary opportunity and success among low-income students and students of color. For Achieving the Dream to achieve its goal of improving outcomes for these students, it must inform and mobilize many people: those inside the community college world, state and national policy-makers and opinion leaders, local leaders in Achieving the Dream communities, students at Achieving the Dream colleges, and other key allies, including funders and employers.

In the coming months, Achieving the Dream will develop a plan for creating public awareness of the Achieving the Dream movement and its message, increasing support for the Achieving the Dream work in demonstration communities and states, and disseminating data and lessons from the movement. These efforts will target community leaders, employers, community organizations and agencies, students and families, and state-level constituencies. Dissemination efforts will be nationwide, with the goal of sparking a national movement to raise student success rates.

What knowledge does Achieving the Dream expect to generate and disseminate?

Achieving the Dream will generate and disseminate knowledge about community college student outcomes and ways to improve student success rates. The movement will enhance the knowledge of community college leaders, policy-makers, higher education researchers, funders, and others through several activities:

Achieving the Dream will create a national database on community college enrollment and student outcomes using publicly available data. The database will include student characteristics, financial aid data, institutional characteristics, and graduation rates. The database will be created in early 2004 and updated annually. It will be available to the public on Achieving the Dream's website.

Achieving the Dream will enter data from Achieving the Dream colleges into a master database, which partners can tap for evaluation, research, communications, and management of the movement. By June 2005, Achieving the Dream partner organizations and participating colleges will have access to this restricted database on the movement’s web site. It will be posted in the form of tables that show academic progress and outcomes for students disaggregated by demographic characteristics. The database will allow queries and provide reporting options, enabling Achieving the Dream partners and colleges to track changes over time and make peer comparisons.

In Spring 2004, Achieving the Dream will produce a report on institutional factors associated with positive outcomes for low-income students and students of color. During 2004-2005, Achieving the Dream will use case studies to examine college policies, structures, programs, and services that enhance student success. This research will look at remediation and academic support; faculty selection, hiring and development; financial aid policies; student support services; and other issues. The findings will help inform strategy directions for Achieving the Dream colleges and other community colleges nationally.

The evaluation of Achieving the Dream will generate insights about the movement's process to motivate, guide and institutionalize change at community colleges. Lessons will be shared with community college leaders, policy-makers, funders, and others through articles, papers, and conference presentations.

During 2004-2005, Achieving the Dream will undertake a national study of institutional research capabilities and the use of data at community colleges. This study will document the “state of the art” in community college institutional research, identifying exemplary efforts by colleges to use data to improve outcomes for low-income students and students of color.

Achieving the Dream seeks to focus the attention of colleges and state community college systems on improving outcomes for low-income students and students of color. To do that, colleges and states need to routinely measure student outcomes by race, ethnicity, and income. The demonstration colleges and states will be a testing ground for focused analysis of student outcomes. In the long term, we hope to spread the methods developed in Achieving the Dream more broadly. To that end, we will refine a list of core indicators and a method of analysis that can be codified and shared with community colleges nationally. In addition, Achieving the Dream will develop recommendations for changes in state and federal community college data systems.


ATD Partners

Why does Achieving the Dream have so many national partners?

The vision of improving student access and educational attainment will require the long-term commitment and support of numerous organizations, institutions, and individuals. Lumina Foundation for Education has recruited several national organizations with proven track records for working collaboratively and effectively in the higher education arena. The partnership brings multiple skill sets to the movement. Yet the partners also will be learning during Achieving the Dream, and we expect to build our capacity and commitment to work individually and collectively to sustain the Achieving the Dream agenda long-term, even beyond the period during which Lumina Foundation expects to be directly involved. Achieving the Dream welcomes and encourages the involvement of other foundations in making the movement a permanent, sustainable force for improving student success.

For More Information

Please contact
Achieving the Dream, Inc.
8455 Colesville Road, Suite 900
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910
Phone: 240-450-0075
Fax: 240-450-0076


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