Achieving the Dream includes over 160 colleges in 30 states and the District of Columbia. The original 26 community colleges, which began working with the initiative in 2004, are located in five states: Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. These states were chosen because they have community colleges that enroll large numbers of low-income students and students of color — student groups that traditionally have faced the most significant barriers to success. These states have also demonstrated interest in implementing policies that promote access to and success in community colleges. As of 2011, an additional 134 colleges across the country had joined the initiative.
When joining the initiative, colleges are expected to evaluate their own student data — including data on their overall student population as well as data disaggregated for particular racial, ethnic and income subgroups — to identify achievement gaps and priority areas for reform. They are also encouraged to gather input from their students, faculty, staff, and communities. Using this information, college officials are then expected to adopt strategies to create real changes in specific practices, such as a sharper focus on effective developmental education, as well as less tangible shifts in attitudes and approaches, such as strengthening institutional research capacity.
Starting in late 2005, MDRC began studying program implementation at the 26 Round 1 colleges. In 2006 and 2009, MDRC and its partners visited the Round 1 colleges, documenting the reforms that each college had undertaken and conducting interviews with administrators and faculty to measure changes in attitudes and practices at the colleges. Qualitative data from these visits were combined with student performance indicators, with findings summarized in a baseline report released in May 2007 and an interim report on the Round 1 colleges’ progress in February 2011.
MDRC, together with its evaluation partner, the Community College Research Center (CCRC), has also published a number of other reports on colleges’ programs, strategies, and progress in Achieving the Dream, including a cost study analyzing colleges’ financial contributions to the initiative; a qualitative study of minority men in Achieving the Dream colleges; an analysis of faculty and administrators’ use of data on student outcomes; a baseline report on Round 3 colleges in Washington state and Pennsylvania that joined the initiative in 2006; three impact studies of a staff-to-student mentoring program, a student success course, and learning communities; and three case studies on colleges’ strategies and interventions. In the coming years, MDRC and CCRC will also produce a final report documenting the progress of the 26 Round 1 colleges and the six Round 3 colleges in Washington state. These reports will use such data sources as field visits to the colleges; a follow-up survey of administrators and faculty; and analysis of the student outcome data that the participating colleges are submitting as part of their work in the initiative.