Turning the Tide

Five Years of Achieving the Dream in Community Colleges

By Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow, Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, Thomas Brock, Genevieve Orr, Oscar Cerna, Dan Cullinan, Monica Reid Kerrigan, Davis Jenkins, Susan Gooden, Kasey Martin

In 2004, Lumina Foundation for Education launched “Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count,” a national initiative aimed at improving success among community college students, particularly low-income students and students of color. Now encompassing more than 130 institutions in 24 states and the District of Columbia, Achieving the Dream helps community colleges build a “culture of evidence” by using student records and other data to examine students’ performance over time and to identify barriers to academic progress. From there, community colleges are expected to develop intervention strategies designed to improve student outcomes; conduct further research on student progress; and bring effective programs to scale. As a result, it is anticipated that colleges will see measurable improvements over time in student outcomes, including increased progress through developmental education and college-level “gatekeeper” (introductory) courses, grades, persistence, and completion of credentials.

This report examines the first 26 colleges to join Achieving the Dream in 2004 (known as the “Round 1” colleges), and tracks their progress through spring 2009. The key findings are:

  • Four out of five Round 1 colleges adopted practices associated with a moderate to strong culture of evidence. These colleges made important enhancements to their institutions, including more sophisticated methods for data analysis and more efficient systems for monitoring their efforts to improve students’ achievement. Conversely, about one-fifth of the colleges still struggled to implement many of the initiative’s recommended practices, hindered primarily by weak institutional research capacity.

  • Colleges that made the greatest strides shared several key characteristics, including broad-based involvement of college administrators, faculty, and staff; strong institutional research departments that produced accessible reports on student achievement; regular evaluations of their programs; and scale-up of successful programs.

  • Colleges instituted a wide range of strategies to improve student achievement, but a majority of them remained small in scale. The most popular strategies were tutoring, supplemental instruction, advising, success courses, and learning communities. However, a majority of these reforms reached less than 10 percent of their intended target populations.

  • Achieving the Dream had an important influence on most colleges. Representatives from three-fourths of the colleges said that the initiative had at least some influence on their development of a culture of evidence. Other important influences included accreditation systems, grants in addition to those from Achieving the Dream, and visionary college leaders.

  • Trends in student outcomes remained relatively unchanged, with a few exceptions. On average, after Achieving the Dream was introduced, colleges saw modest improvements in the percentage of students completing gatekeeper college English courses and courses completed. In contrast, students’ persistence and the percentage of students completing developmental math, developmental English, developmental reading, and gatekeeper math courses remained substantially the same.

A final report on the Round 1 colleges, with a follow-up on the trends in student outcomes, is planned for 2012-2013.

Document Details

Publication Type
February 2011
Zachry Rutschow, Elizabeth, Lashawn Richburg-Hayes, Thomas Brock, Genevieve Orr, Oscar Cerna, Dan Cullinan, Monica Reid Kerrigan, Davis Jenkins, Susan Gooden, and Kasey Martin. 2011. Turning the Tide. New York: MDRC.