Chattanooga State & Southwest Tennessee community colleges earn national Leader College status

Northeast State student Tuan Nguyen addresses ATD conference

Two of the four colleges from across the country newly earning the prestigious Leader College status from the national Achieving the Dream Network for steady improvement in student success outcomes are Tennessee community colleges.

Chattanooga State Community College and Southwest Tennessee Community College were awarded the honor at Achieving the Dream’s national conference Thursday at National Harbor, Md. 

“Becoming a Leader College requires institutions to have data that show concrete progress toward building a student-centered culture that drives gains in student success,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “To achieve this, colleges must be willing to work differently to improve the educational journeys of all of their students. I’m proud to recognize these colleges that are living their commitment to change and are achieving stronger results.”

Conceived in 2004 as an initiative by Lumina Foundation and seven founding partner organizations, Achieving the Dream now leads the most comprehensive non-governmental reform movement for student success in higher education history. Together with a network of over 277 institutions of higher education in 44 states and the District of Columbia, 75 coaches and advisors, and numerous investors and partners, ATD is helping more than 4 million community college students have a better chance of realizing greater economic opportunity and achieving their dreams.

Twelve Tennessee community colleges are members of the national ATD Network. Jackson State Community College and Roane State were accepted in 2015, followed by Chattanooga State and Southwest in 2016. After their initial success in the network, eight others joined in 2018 as part of a Tennessee Board of Regents initiative to close academic achievement gaps and improve graduation rates for all students. Roane State earned Leader College status last year.

Leader Colleges, certified for three-year terms, play an important role in accelerating adoption of effective practices within the ATD Network and across higher education. They are recognized for the quality of their work in whole-college reform, resulting in increased completion rates for all students. And they develop innovative ways to work with other colleges to share knowledge and facilitate an exchange of ideas about evidence-based reform strategies.

Leader Colleges are eligible to compete for all grant-funded learning initiatives and are encouraged to provide leadership and support to other colleges in the ATD national Network, disseminate lessons learned, support state and national efforts to advance student success, and continue to improve student outcomes.

Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora W. Tydings, a strong advocate for Achieving the Dream and its student-centered mission, congratulated both colleges for their work to ensure that all students succeed. “I’m very proud of the work that Presidents Ashford and Hall and all the faculty and staff at Chattanooga State and Southwest have done to improve student success, as recognized by this high honor from ATD. Our System shares the ATD vision of community colleges that highly value preserving access and ensuring success for all students.”

Chattanooga State President Dr. Rebecca Ashford said, “I am incredibly proud of the students, faculty and staff who have worked so hard to increase our student success outcomes. This recognition from Achieving the Dream is a testament to Chattanooga State’s commitment to improving the lives of our students through education. I am humbled to be part of this important work.

Southwest President Dr. Tracy D. Hall said, “ATD has been a game changer for us.  We have worked hard to successfully transform the student experience through the outstanding guidance and framework provided by ATD.  We are proud of this designation.  It is a fantastic affirmation of our hard work and the improved student outcomes we see every day.”

Gains in student success outcomes accomplished by the new class of Leader Colleges cited by ATD include increasing fall-to-fall semester retention for first-generation students; increasing college-level math and English completion for Pell students, by 6 to 14 percent, and appointing academic affairs personnel to promote equity and inclusion across the college. The other two colleges in the 2019 class are MiraCosta College in California and Oakton Community College in Illinois.

Also at the ATD conference, Northeast State Community College student Tuan Nguyen addressed the more than 2,000 attendees as one of eight ATD 2020 Dream Scholars selected from across the country.

Dream Scholars are nominated by their institutions, submit applications that ask them to reflect on their college journeys, and undergo a rigorous selection process. During the national conference, the students meet with community college leaders, share their educational experiences, and attend sessions on improving student success, institutional governance, teaching and learning, administration, and more. The Scholars’ participation in the conference enhances their leadership, critical thinking and networking skills, while providing additional insight about Network colleges’ work to improve their students’ success.

Nguyen, who is majoring in Economics and Marketing at Northeast State, will graduate this spring and plans to enroll at a four-year institution to pursue his bachelor’s degree.

A first-generation college student and son of immigrant parents, Nguyen enrolled at Northeast State through the Tennessee Reconnect scholarship. He is an Honors Program student and member of Alpha Iota Chi chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. Nguyen serves as Honors-in-Action chair for the chapter.

 Nguyen’s selection marks the second consecutive year a Northeast State student earned the Achieving the Dream recognition. Alumna Samantha Parrish earned the DREAM Scholar award last year.

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.