States network to improve community college success

A new collaboration aims to boost community college achievement.

Improving community college success and boosting completion rates are the two major goals of the Postsecondary State Policy Network, a multi-state collaboration lead by Jobs for the Future in conjunction with Achieving the Dream.

Both Jobs for the Future and Achieving the Dream aim to create pathways to success for community college students, particularly low-income students. Jobs for the Future concentrates on improving college readiness and ensuring career advancement, while Achieving the Dream is a non-governmental reform network for community college student success.

The Postsecondary State Policy Network strives to improve community college completion rates through sharing information, resources, and experiences to effect change.  Eleven states are part of the network: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia.

The Virginia Community College System has benefited from its involvement in the network. In partnership with other network policy officials, Virginia has implemented a new assessment and placement protocol in all 23 of its community colleges. New sequential math modules and an integrated reading and writing curriculum have also been employed.

“We found, in being able to connect with other state policy teams’ similar and different challenges, [that] being able to discuss those together helps us see how other states have tackled problems that we may have to confront in the future,” said Susan Wood, vice chancellor of Academic Services and Research at the Virginia Community College System.

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Looking ahead, the Virginia Community College System has established “Achieve 2015,” a strategic plan that outlines its goal to achieve a 50-percent increase in the number of community college students who earn degrees, transfer to four-year institutions, or earn a workforce credential. Virginia aspires to increase the number of low-income students achieving these same standards by 75 percent.

Meredith Archer Hatch, associate director of programs for Achieving the Dream, said she believes that the collaborative reform and equity efforts that occur within the Postsecondary State Policy Network allow states to produce significant, substantial results.

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“I think [the Postsecondary State Policy Network] is an important continuation of exceptional state policy,” said Hatch. “As the network grows and gains more experience in creating supportive policies, we’re seeing success and evidence-based growth. I think at this point, the states in the network have participated for a number of years, and I think that that really allows for a pretty robust collaboration.”

The Postsecondary State Policy Network meets four times a year. Twice a year, states construct a state policy team comprised of education stakeholders like administrators and college presidents. These policy teams join forces to update one another on their state’s individual goals and processes.

“Each state tends to have its own strategic planning process where they set their own goals that make sense in a local context,” said Lara Couturier, program director for Jobs for the Future. “But [the states] are coming together with a shared goal of accelerating the innovation around student success in the community college.”

Couturier said that the Postsecondary State Policy Network is a facet of the “National Student Completion Movement,” an overhead initiative from Achieving the Dream.

“Jobs for the Future leads the Postsecondary Policy Network, and we do a variety of things like stay on top of the national research, sort through complexities and the [common] contradictions in research,” said Couturier. “We also deliver direct technical assistance to the states, like if they need extra speaker or [help] setting agendas, goals, and planning.”

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States within the network not only share resources and evidence-based support models, but also offer support to one another, and push each other to be better. When states implement creative pathways to improve community college completion rates, the nation as a whole can profit.

“[Although] the focus in states is within the local context, I think that the states that are included in the network are also national example,” said Hatch. “In that way, we can drive and inform national policy.”

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