The genius behind Pierce College’s involvement in Achieving the Dream is that the “five indicators of success” are not a group of worthy — yet unrelated — goals. Instead, the indicators build on one another like dominoes: when retention grows, it sets the stage for improvements in precollege education, gateway course and college course completion, and finally, graduation.
Recent analysis shows that student retention at Pierce College has grown since 2010 — with many groups showing a marked improvement — giving Pierce a solid start toward realizing the goals embodied in Achieving the Dream.
“Overall, our fall-to-winter retention for new degree-seeking students improved four percent — our historical drop-off of 19 to 20 percent actually held at 15 percent,” Kris Cummings, Pierce’s director of Institutional Research, told the Board of Trustees in November.
2010 was chosen as a benchmark, she said, because it precedes an increased national focus on community colleges starting in 2011-12, and Pierce’s initial involvement in Achieving the Dream and other student-improvement efforts in 2012-13.
Retention spiking for some groups
But while overall fall-to-winter numbers have risen modestly, the exciting news is that for many student groups, retention has shown much sharper increases.
“Equity is a key principle of Achieving the Dream, so we’re thrilled that some of our students with historically low retention rates are showing the best improvement: students with dependents rose from 73 to 80 percent; African American students, from 76 to 83 percent; males, from 78 to 83 percent; and part-time students — historically our biggest drop-off — from 71 to 77 percent,” Cummings explained.
And although the increases continue for fall-to-fall retention for nearly all groups, the few drop-off areas highlight opportunities for growth.
“Our students with dependents are doing well from fall to winter, but they drop off again in fall-to-fall measurements,” she said. “This shows that while we’re generally doing well and making progress, we still have work to do to close retention gaps in some places,” she said.
Future includes more measurement, automation
After the first of the year, Cummings added that Institutional Research will begin pulling three-year data on the remaining ATD indicators.
“We don’t expect to see the latter ATD indicators such as college-level course completion and graduation rates rising as rapidly — because the students we’ve measured in the last year or two might not be there yet — but it’s a baseline we’ll use for more analysis over the next few years,” she explained.
And to bolster these numbers and help more students earn a degree or certificate or reach their goal, she said, Pierce has identified five priority areas — engagement, start 2 finish, basic skills, precollege math and precollege English/reading — and is building interventions under each.
Also, parallel to the continued ATD analysis, Cummings announced that several other research reports are in the process of being automated, including enrollment and program data.
“Initially, all the numbers we’ve been working with were kept in Excel sheets, but programmer Andrew Craswell is writing code that will allow us to post historical and real-time ATD data on the Institutional Research website,” she said.
“The numbers will be presented in a much more visual, current and useful way, and the whole college community will have access,” she added. “We expect that to start in winter quarter of this academic year.”