Investing in Change

How Much Do Achieving the Dream Colleges Spend — and from What Resources — to Become Data-Driven Institutions?

By Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Erin Coghlan

Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count provides a comprehensive model for colleges interested in investing in improved student outcomes. Started in 2003 by Lumina Foundation for Education, Achieving the Dream encourages colleges to undertake a rigorous process of self-examination and to develop concrete goals and priorities for institutional reform based on an analysis of their student outcomes data. In an effort to assist colleges in accomplishing these goals, Achieving the Dream provides a number of supports, including coaching, annual initiativewide conferences, and grants totaling $450,000 over five years. However, colleges are also expected to find other sources of funding — either from external grants or their own institutional funds — to pilot and implement successful institutional reform strategies.

This report analyzes the experiences of five community colleges and the investments they made in implementing an institutionwide improvement process aimed at increasing students’ success. The colleges in this study are located in the southeastern and southwestern United States and include Valencia Community College in Orlando, Florida; Tallahassee Community College in Tallahassee, Florida; El Paso Community College in El Paso, Texas; South Texas College in McAllen, Texas; and the University of New Mexico in Gallup, New Mexico. The report examines how, where, and with what resources these colleges supported their reforms, as well as the key activities driving their overall expenditures.

Key Findings

  • On average, these colleges spent $6.3 million on their broad institutional reform process. While their investments were substantial, they represented less than 5 percent of their overall institutional revenues during this five-year period. Colleges tended to support much of their work through the reallocation of existing employee time; however, flexible institutional funds and external grants also played an important role, especially for the small college in the study.

  • Colleges’ $450,000 grants from Lumina provided an important impetus for change. However, these grants tended to be the smallest resource supporting colleges’ spending.

  • Colleges’ investments over time revealed a ramp-up in spending during the final period of their five-year participation in the initiative. Colleges tended to spend few funds early in their institutional reform process while investing 50 percent to 60 percent of their resources in the final two years of their implementation of Achieving the Dream.

  • Colleges’ spending on reform activities — such as leadership and management, institutional research, and intervention strategies — tended to differ by institution. Colleges invested heavily in all three areas, spending an average of 47 percent on implementing their intervention strategies, 33 percent on leadership and management activities, and 20 percent on upgrading their institutional research capacity.

  • Colleges’ committee work and professional development tended to be key drivers of expenditures in leadership management, while institutional research costs tended to be driven by data analysis and staffing. Faculty and staff involvement tended to be the key drivers of colleges’ intervention strategies. Colleges that involved faculty and staff more heavily also tended to have higher levels of spending.

Document Details

Publication Type
June 2010
Zachry Rutschow, Elizabeth and Erin Coghlan. 2010. Investing in Change. New York: MDRC.