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Achieving the Dream Through Partnership


Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” This is the mindset we must have in our efforts to improve postsecondary outcomes for underserved students. No one can succeed alone. Because the challenges are many and the resources limited, it is essential to look for every opportunity to partner.

One such partnership opportunity is coming to Mississippi for the first time, supported by a $900,000 grant from the Woodward Hines Education Foundation. Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of community colleges committed to helping their students – particularly low-income students and students of color – achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth and economic opportunity. This fall, Coahoma Community College and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) will join more than 220 community colleges serving 4 million students across 40 states in the ATD network.

ATD offers data-driven coaching and training for community college leaders, tapping into national datasets and assessment tools to help colleges benchmark their performance over time. Through their participation in ATD over the four-year funding period, Coahoma and MGCCC will have access to these tools to help them set priorities within seven key capacity areas: Leadership & Vision, Data & Technology, Equity, Teaching & Learning, Engagement & Communication, Strategy & Planning, and Policies & Practices. ATD will coach each college on how to use their own data to inform their actions, from the programs they offer to the policies they enact.

Support for the two Mississippi colleges arrives at a critical moment, when funding to the state’s 15 community colleges will be reduced by $28 million over the next year. These cuts make it difficult to implement the reforms necessary for boosting student retention and completion of associate degrees – two metrics that most colleges in the ATD network have seen increase.

The reduction in state funding also means costs will be passed along to the colleges’ 75,000 students – most of whom are low-income – presenting a serious barrier to completing a degree. Earning a degree matters: By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. Thankfully, ATD offers access to a large-scale network of other colleges working toward similar goals, which allows members to see how others are overcoming these types of challenges.

“Achieving the Dream’s partnership with Mississippi’s community colleges through the Woodward Hines Educational Foundation offers a significant opportunity to increase the employment and transfer outcomes of Mississippi students,” said Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner, a former data coach for ATD. “ATD is considered an expert on both the practice and the research of students within the community college sector and can help Mississippi schools with the assessment and implementation of best practices that increase student pathways to success.”

The leadership teams at both colleges are fully invested in the ATD program and its success, which is crucial for realizing long-term, sustainable change.

"From day one of my tenure as president, I have literally dreamt of Coahoma Community College becoming an Achieving the Dream institution,” said Dr. Valmadge Towner, president of Coahoma Community College. “I am excited to experience a good dream become reality. We feel that Achieving the Dream will engage, empower and equip Coahoma to systematically improve student success in a significantly positive direction.”

“Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is honored to partner with Achieving the Dream, an organization that has been committed to improving student success for the past decade,” said Dr. Mary Graham, president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. “Student success is our college’s top priority, and partnering with Achieving the Dream will allow us to learn what we can do to better serve our students and help them meet their goals.”

We are thrilled that ATD is coming to Mississippi, and we expect that Coahoma and MGCCC will share their ATD experience with other community colleges around the state so they can reap the benefits. With all of us individually committed to the group effort, aligning our work here and across the country, I know that we can succeed in transforming outcomes for community college students.

Jim McHale is president and CEO of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation, based in Jackson, Mississippi.

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