Achieving the Dream

Achieving the Dream (AtD) is a national initiative to help community college students succeed. The initiative is particularly concerned about student groups that have faced the most significant barriers to success, including low-income students and students of color. Achieving the Dream focuses participating colleges on disparities in student outcomes in order to begin to close achievement gaps by adopting practices that will help more students continue their studies and earn certificates and degrees.

Since the goals and values of Achieving the Dream have been guiding principles at the College, they are reflected in the College's current planning documents. Consequently, Institutional Research (IR) reports have reflected these goals and values prior to the College's initial participation in Achieving the Dream in the summer of 2006. This portion of the IR website provides reports and information that embody the goals and values of Achieving the Dream. It will also serve as a resource for assessment of the College's progress in closing student achievement gaps as we move forward with institutional initiatives that are designed to address disparities in student success at the College.

Assessment Plan at Community College of Philadelphia

The conceptual framework that has been adopted by the Office of Institutional Research (OIR) to guide its assessment of institutional effectiveness is consistent with the focus of Achieving the Dream. The following passage has been excerpted from the OIR Assessment Plan.

The models that have shaped assessment research undertaken at the College have their roots in persistence models developed by Tinto, Bean, and Pascarella. While the models were originally developed to understand persistence, they have been useful in understanding dynamics associated with a broad range of educational outcomes including student learning. Since the principle focus of these models is on the interaction between students and the college environment rather than student pre-entry characteristics, they imply that college practices and pedagogical methods can be influenced by educational institutions in directions that lead to improved achievement by students. This focus is congruent with the open access aspect of the community college mission.

Specifically, the theoretical framework that guides much of the assessment research at the College posits that student growth and development results from a longitudinal process of interaction between a student and other members of the academic and social systems of the college. Positive experiences lead to increased intellectual and social integration, which positively impact intentions and commitments to the learning process and the College. Conversely, negative experiences within the College lead to disengagement from the intellectual and social life resulting in reduced commitment to the learning process and the College.

This conceptual framework accommodates the College’s diverse mission. This diversity is reflected in the College’s heterogeneous student body, which is characterized by a wide range of educational and career objectives, educational backgrounds, college-readiness and personal backgrounds. Assessing educational effectiveness against this complex backdrop runs a risk of producing invalid conclusions if student characteristics and educational experiences are not incorporated into assessments of student academic achievement. As a result, the assessment model used at the College is sensitive to differences among student groups and flexible enough to be applied across a diverse set of student and institutional interrelationships such as those possible at the College.

NOTE: Follow this link to the full version of the Assessment Plan.

Student Characteristics Relevant to Achieving the Dream

Achieving the Dream is particularly interested in student groups that have faced the most significant barriers to success in higher education, including low-income students and students of color. Independent of participation in Achieving the Dream, the College identified the pursuit of parity in student outcomes as an institutional priority and incorporated this goal into the 2004-2008 Strategic Plan; Enrollment Management Plan 2004-2008; and the Academic Affairs Plan in the hopes of eliminating disparity in student outcomes through the development and implementation of intervention strategies that promote greater student success.

As a first step in addressing the issue, the Data Quality Task Force in spring 2005 agreed that age, gender, and race were characteristics that should be used to define student cohorts of interest at the College. Subsequently, a subset of the Task Force, representing individuals working closely on development of institutional plans, was convened to further refine these student cohorts. Based on this conversation, two age groups were defined: 1) 18 to 24 years and 2) 25 years and older. It was also decided that gender would be examined within race categories.

The Achieving the Dream Data Team validated the work of the Data Quality Task Force. After reviewing and analyzing institutional research related to the College's effectiveness with respect to Achieving the Dream objectives, the Data Team concluded that a strengthened student experience was needed to improve student outcomes across the board.

Several consistent trends emerged when the Data Team examined outcomes across student groups defined by gender within race. Male students consistently experience less successful outcomes than female students. Black and Latino students consistently experience less successful outcomes than Asian and White students. Black males are very high risk, especially during the first semesters of enrollment.

Based on the importance of the relationship between student engagement and student outcomes and the AtD objective to ensure parity in student outcomes, the Data Team suggested the College participate in The Community College Survey of Student Engagement in order to determine if there is a causal connection between parity in student outcomes and qualitative differences in learning opportunities and experiences provided to students.

The Data Team also suggested that the College systematically gather educational and career goal information from students so it can be used to identify potentially at-risk students who might benefit from proactive interventions that are designed to provide direction and individualized support.

Information Related to Student Outcomes and Achievement Gaps

An analytical strategy at Achieving the Dream (AtD) institutions is disaggregating student achievement information to identify gaps in student performance and develop initiatives to close the gaps. The Office of Institutional Research developed an AtD Fact Sheet as a method for providing the College community with institutional effectiveness information relevant to AtD. The initial set of Fact Sheets that were developed during the first year of the College's participation in the AtD established baseline information on student outcomes that will be used to assess the success of College initiatives that are implemented to improve overall student outcomes and promote parity in outcomes across all student groups.

Achieving the Dream Fact Sheets