In the quest to increase completion rates, individual two-year colleges may implement a myriad of reforms, initiatives and programs on their campuses. But too often these efforts are isolated. Helping the greatest number of students earn postsecondary credentials requires broad-scale change—at institutions, across their college systems and beyond.
Collaboration among community and technical colleges at the system level is critical to bring effective innovations to scale and sustainability. A Student Success Center is a statewide hub that provides a common vision for student persistence and completion, coordinates the colleges' activities, represents them in state-level policy advocacy, and ensures that all college across the state benefit from lessons learned on how to help more students earn degrees and credentials.
Thirteen states have established Student Success Centers with funds from The Kresge Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Jobs for the Future (JFF) manages the Student Success Center Network, providing technical assistance and encouraging collaboration. These centers not only provide cross-college engagement within a state, they also form a cross-state learning community for sharing effective approaches in practice, research and policy to dramatically improve completion outcomes.
Wisconsin is the next state to join this growing network. With a three-year, $1.35 million grant from Great Lakes, JFF supported the launch of a Student Success Center that is driven by the needs of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS). The WTCS Student Success Center will help system colleges improve their performance, address equity and achievement gaps, and increase the number of students progressing toward and completing credentials.
Through the Student Success Center, the 16 colleges of the Wisconsin Technical College System will learn from and build upon the work at their neighboring and peer institutions. They will have access to shared resources, opportunities to develop a coherent strategy and align implementation, a collective voice in state policy discussions, and support to scale evidence-based practices statewide.
The primary objectives of the WTCS Student Success Center include:
- Refining data infrastructure and dissemination to best drive student-focused, data-based decisions
- Establishing a community of practice to broaden and accelerate the use of proven, high-impact student success strategies
- Aligning state and national completion initiatives
- Leveraging the knowledge and experience available through the JFF Student Success Center Network
In July 2017, WTCS held its first Student Success Summit with JFF staff and representatives from all 16 colleges to share its plans to broaden and accelerate the systemwide use of proven, high-impact student success strategies. Additionally, WTCS has gotten very involved in the national network of Student Success Centers. During the July State Policy Meeting hosted by JFF, WTCS Student Success Center leaders joined representatives from all other Student Success Centers to discuss scaling guided pathways. And even though the WTCS Student Success Center is the newest in the network, its staff was asked to lead a session on emergency aid.
In 2017-18, the first academic year of Center operations, all 16 Wisconsin technical colleges focused on guided pathways reform and created cross-functional teams to lead the work. Achieving the Dream is supporting each WTCS institution with customized coaching based on their guided pathways priorities.
Grant funds allowed the Center to purchase and implement software that provides visibility to student success data by institution (e.g., graduation, completion, transfer rates, etc.), as well as broader student outcomes such as GPA, semester-to-semester persistence, credit momentum and key courses completed. A wide variety of college staff are using the data to inform their work including institutional researchers, administrators, diversity services staff and grant writers. JFF reports that the Center’s decision to prioritize data reform is leading the way among Student Success Centers nationwide.
NATIONAL STUDENT SUCCESS CENTER NETWORK
Contact Program Officer Carolynn Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.