Southwest Tennessee Community College has won the prestigious national 2021 Bellwether Award in the category of Planning, Governance and Finance. The highly competitive award recognizes community colleges for their cutting-edge, trendsetting programs that are worthy of replication.
Officials of the Bellwether College Consortium announced the award during a virtual presentation Jan. 26, 2021, at the 27th Annual Community College Futures Assembly. The assembly is an independent national policy forum for key higher education thought leaders.
“This is an amazing affirmation of our phenomenal journey of transformation at Southwest,” President Tracy D. Hall said. “To be nationally recognized by our peers who are thought leaders in the community college arena is especially gratifying and significant,” Hall added. “I am truly proud of the faculty and staff for banding together in the name of student success. They defied the status quo and courageously stepped into the light of innovation and wholeheartedly embraced and achieved meaningful, systemic change at Southwest! I cannot praise our team enough on this achievement and can never adequately express my profound gratitude and admiration for what they have accomplished. I am excited for the future. There is more to come.”
Southwest was the only college in Tennessee selected as one of 10 finalists nationwide in the Planning, Governance and Finance category that recognizes innovative programs and best practices to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Each finalist underwent two rigorous rounds of judging by a panel of thought leaders, national experts and academicians, as well as made a final presentation at the assembly.
Southwest’s winning submission, titled "Redesign, Reinvent, and Reset: Organizing for Large Scale Systemic Change," was a snapshot of the college’s strategies, successes and lessons learned as faculty and staff moved the college forward to redesign and transform the student experience -- from recruitment to graduation and every touchpoint in between. The work reflects the challenges faced by students in an urban environment and maps out positive outcomes that students, regardless of their income or life experience, can achieve. The result is a strategic plan for the college that embraces and fosters a culture of equity and upward social mobility for students attending a predominantly black institution in one of the poorest cities in the nation.
The journey of transformation began in 2016, when Southwest joined Achieving the Dream, a national community college transformation movement. More than 200 employees from across the college volunteered on 22 cross-functional teams to take a deep dive into rebuilding and reshaping the college for student success. A movement was born as Southwest began the difficult work of organizing for systemic, transformational change in the culture, structure and operations of the college.
Working from critical data gathered in a 2015 Huron report that provided a baseline of the student experience, Southwest identified and targeted the factors that contributed to a decline in enrollment, retention and graduation rates, along with growing achievement gaps between black and white students. The Redesign, Reinvent, Reset Teams focused on results-driven outcomes, rather than boutique initiatives that only led to small-scale change.
Fueled by new data teams, a new organizational and governance structure and academic process maps, among other large-scale changes, the college began to see a reversal in its previous negative trends. By 2017, the enrollment increased 10 percent. The following year, the graduation rate doubled and the college narrowed the achievement gaps between black and white students. Students, faculty and administration had much to celebrate that year with a 26 percent growth in associate degrees conferred in 2018.
Southwest continues to move the needle forward, taking the achievements of its Redesign, Reinvent and Reset outcomes to Reimagine Southwest during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Consortium awards only three Bellwethers annually. Southwest congratulates the two other winners in their respective categories: Oxnard College, in the Workforce Development category, and College of the Canyons, in the Instructional Programs and Services category. Both are California colleges.
To see a video snapshot of Southwest’s Bellwether Award, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4yanAAlf3A.
Southwest Tennessee Community College is a comprehensive, multicultural, public, open-access college that serves more than 10,000 students annually. Southwest awards associate degrees and certifications in more than 120 programs of study to raise educational levels, enhance economic development and enrich quality of life for students and the community at large. Southwest is a Tennessee Board of Regents institution, accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. For more information, visit southwest.tn.edu.
The Bellwether College Consortium is a group of colleges charged with addressing the critical issues facing community colleges through research and the promotion and replication of best practices addressing workforce development, instructional programs and services, and planning governance and finance. The Bellwether Award is proudly sponsored by the Alamo Colleges District in San Antonio, Texas. For more information, consult the Community College Futures Assembly website, bellwethercollegeconsortium.com
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.