Austin Community College: Reading Between the Persistence Lift Lines

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Data from The University of Texas at Austin Charles A. Dana Center reveals that only 1 in 5 students go to college in Texas. As the second largest higher education institution in Central Texas, Austin Community College (ACC) enrolls many of the students who beat these odds, though other challenges await them. For our students, having a navigable, structured educational journey is critical to increase their likelihood of success. This is why ACC restructured 300 degree programs into 10 areas of study with advisors offering personalization and support along the way. But our students are making important decisions along their journeys — often without an advisor sitting next to them. Some like Lluvia, for example, are figuring out how to balance school with other obligations. Every day, students are weighing options and exploring trade-offs: How much longer will it take me to complete my degree if I switch majors now? What careers would be available to me with one degree vs. another? If I’m deciding between two majors, what classes count toward both options? To empower students at the moments those questions arise, we rolled out the Civitas Learning Degree Map application. Overall, ACC saw an 11%pp increase in persistence for students who used Degree Map in the Fall of 2016. Digging into those results further, and look at impact for specific segments of the ACC student population, we find new signals pointing us toward opportunities to build on this work.
Closing the Equity Gap
A recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reveals that only 56 percent of overall students completed a degree or certificate within six years of entering a postsecondary institution. In contrast, only 38 percent of African American students and 46 percent of Hispanic students complete. Our analysis of the impact of Degree Map on persistence revealed that the lift for African American and Hispanic students was lower than that of the overall population. So perhaps this is less reflective of use of the tool and more indicative of trends for these  groups of students in higher education in general. To address this, we are encouraged by the fact that the results show the difference in persistence lifts is only one percentage point — a gap that is less significant than the picture that broader higher education trends paint.
We see this as an opportunity to engage these students in order to teach them foundational skills and to make them believe that they matter and they belong.
For example, our advising case management model around first-time full-time students is focused on coaching and teaching students skills like financial literacy. We have also improved support by assigning all students a student services advisor and a faculty advisor — both of whom have access to Degree Map — so that students can get specialized guidance and encouragement along the way to their degree.
Helping Students Balance Learning with Life
The finding that full-time students who use Degree Map persist at a higher rate than the overall student population also points to opportunities for advisors to have more conversations about family, work and other obligations that compete with school, especially for part-time students. It’s great to see that students who take full course loads are using Degree Map to make degree plans that are achievable and to keep track of their milestones and their own progress. However, part-time time students — who make up 80% of our population — may struggle to balance learning with life. It is critical for these students to have access to a clear degree plan, and that they receive guidance that isn’t just focused on building that plan but also on knowing how to make the best decisions when other things come up that force them to deviate from the plan.

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Austin Community College discusses their work on pathways to empower students as they make critical decisions throughout their education journey, helping them stay on track to completion.
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Wade Bradfute

As Executive Dean, Bradfute plays a key role in ACC's guided pathways implementation aimed to provide student support that is more holistic, proactive, and focused. He is responsible for providing leadership, organization, supervision and evaluation for programs including: assessment, college-readiness, academic advising, counseling, student accessibility services, transfer advising, career counseling, community outreach, college connection, and academic testing.