March 11, 2017 12:00 am

Pierce College has always maintained a strong commitment to student success, but when the college began to take a closer look at the data, the results were alarming. Student retention, course completion and graduation rates were not at acceptable levels, and then numbers showed that the college was not meeting its own expectation of providing equitable education for all students.

The college launched a top-to-bottom, institution-wide drive toward equity. The college re-engineered the entire student experience, requiring that all new students attend orientation and enroll in a mandatory college success class.  Each student is also now required to meet with his or her advisor prior to registering for classes each quarter.

Over the course of four years, the college reallocated $3 million from existing budgets to better support student success priorities.

One of the biggest shifts the college made was in the math department, where the majority of new students were placing into pre-college level courses. Pierce College math professors worked hard to redesign the department in ways that moved students into college-level courses more efficiently.

The English department similarly overhauled their own pre-college sequence to move students into college-level courses faster.

As a result of more than 40 different interventions to improve the success of its students, Pierce College is seeing dramatic improvements in closing achievement gaps and improving graduation rates overall.

“We really increased our use of data and hired skilled staff to help us look at data we didn’t have before,” said Chancellor Michele Johnson.

The college also provided faculty with direct access to student success data, via specially designed dashboards to help assess the performance of students and track their success in prior and subsequent courses. Faculty were not required to use these dashboards, but they quickly saw the system as a useful tool for improvement.

“We approached these changes as mission fulfillment, and not as an initiative that will only impact a small group of students,” Johnson said. “Right from the beginning, we said this is integral to our mission, and it will become our way of doing business.”

As a result of these efforts, the college received the second-highest honor that an American community college can receive: Achieving the Dream’s Leah Meyer Austin Award.