Best Practices


Austin Community College Initiatives

Mandatory Orientation

  • Developing and Implementing a Mandatory Online Student Orientation
    A rural Community College evaluated their procedures for preparing students for online courses and determined they were not meeting the needs of the students. Through the use of the ADDIE Model of Instructional Design, a mandatory online orientation for first time online/hybrid students was developed and implemented. Results from the implementation indicate that after completing the orientation, students feel they are better prepared for their online courses. This result is backed up by an increase in online student retention.
  • Research in Developmental Education 
    National Study of Developmental Education II: Baseline Data for Community Colleges. By Katherine Gerlaugh, Lizette Thomson, Hunter Boylan, and Hildreth Davis. 

    Open access to higher education has been a priority for community colleges in the United States since the 1960s (Cohen & Brawer, 2003). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly all community colleges and many universities offer developmental education courses for the purpose of preparing students who would likely otherwise be unable to complete a higher education program of study (NCES, 2003). Developmental education is of particular concern to community colleges, where the majority of developmental students are enrolled (McCabe, 2002). Until the 1990s, however, there was little information available to describe the demographics of developmental education and evaluate the efficacy of its efforts.
  • Student Progress Toward Degree Completion: Lessons from the Research Literature
    There is a growing recognition of the need to increase the number of Americans earning college degrees as evidence mounts that the country’s economic competitiveness is declining. A telling indicator of declining fortunes is that the country is doing less well in educating new generations than are many other nations. While the U.S. is first among the 29 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations in the percent of its population ages 55 to 64 with an associate’s degree or higher, its ranking falls to 10th for the younger population ages 25 to 34.1
  • About Campus: Getting serious about institutional performance in student retention: Research-based Lessons on Effective Policies and Practices
    The Indiana Project on Academic Success and the College Board Pilot Study on Student Retention evaluated the effectiveness of a variety of approaches to student retention. The authors share empirically grounded insights gleaned from this research.
  • Redesigning Community Colleges for Completion: Lessons from Research on High-performance Organizations
    After examining the research from within and outside of higher education on organizational performance, this paper identifies eight practices common among high-performance organizations: leadership, focus on the customer, functional alignment, process improvement, use of measurement, employee involvement and professional development, and external linkages. Evidence suggests that these organizational practices have the greatest impact on performance when implemented in concert with one another. The paper assesses the extent to which community colleges generally are following these practices and evaluates current reform efforts in light of models of organizational effectiveness that emerge from the research literature.

    In order to bring about improvements in organizational performance, community colleges will need to involve faculty and staff in reform efforts. This paper reviews research on strategies for engaging faculty and staff in organizational innovation and describes particular challenges community colleges face on this front. The concluding section recommends concrete steps community college leaders can take to redesign how they manage programs and services to increase rates of student completion on a scale needed to help meet national goals for college attainment.
  • Networks for Transfer Success
    Building stronger networks for transfer student success involves both inter-institutional and intrainstitutional collaboration. This article explores successful efforts of the Office of Transfer Services at the University of Central Florida to address three critical components of transfer student success: 1) preparation, which involves the delivery of appropriate and timely information prior to a student's enrollment; 2) transition, which calls for collaborative use of a well-networked, decentralized advising structure, and 3) progression, which requires an advocacy system to refer students to campus-wide support services. A key factor to the success of the Office is the ability to develop relationships and collaborate with faculty and staff at the Florida community colleges. Assisting students in successful transfer requires intentional interventions that impact students' decision making. These interventions need to occur at the three critical stages noted above.

First-year Experience

  • Excerpt from “High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter”
    Kuh's (2008, p. 21) has noted: When I am asked, what one think we can do to enhance students engagement and increase student success? I now have an answer: make it possible for every student to participate in at least two high-impact activities during his or her undergraduate program, one in the first year, and one taken later in relation to the major field. The obvious choices for incoming students are first-year seminars, learning communities, and service learning."
  • Predictors of First-Year Student Retention in the Community College
    This study analyzed predictors of fall-to-spring and fall-to-fall retention for 9,200 first-time-in-college students who enrolled in a community college over a four-year period. Findings highlight the impact of developmental education programs and internet-based courses on student persistence. Additional predictors include financial aid, parents' education, the number of semester hours enrolled in and dropped during the first fall semester, and participation in the Student Support Services program.
  • On track to complete?: a taxonomy of beginning community college students and their outcomes 3 years after enrolling: 2003-04 through 2006
    This study uses a classification scheme, the Community College Taxonomy (CCT), to analyze outcomes for beginning community college students according to how 'directed' (strongly directed, moderately directed, or not directed) they are toward completing a program of study. Levels of direction are based on factors associated with student persistence and degree attainment, and outcomes examined included institutional retention, student persistence, 4-year transfer rates, enrollment continuity, and first-year attrition. The study is based on data from the 2004/06 Beginning ... 

Late Registration

Diversity and Equity

  • Diversity and Equity in the Classroom
    The face of society is rapidly changing in the United States and with it, the face of the college classroom. It is hoped that changes in the nation’s demographics will be reflected in the mix of cultures, colors and gender in our college science courses. With diversity comes a richness of learning; and with diversity come special challenges for the college science teacher. When culturally-determined norms conflict with instructional methods, the learning of science can be inhibited. Unless our introductory science courses are more responsive to diversity and equity issues, we will as a society lose the talents of the majority of our population.

Faculty Use of Data

  • Community College Faculty and Developmental Education: An Opportunity for Growth and Investment
    Community colleges have long provided broad access to large numbers of Americans who seek opportunities in higher education. Indeed, for many the only entrée into postsecondary learning is through an affordable public institution that can offer an array of career choices andpossibilities for exploration or that can serve as a launching pad to a four-year institution. Yet many of these students arrive under-prepared for college-level work. Those adults who work with these hopeful youth in an effort to provide them with future opportunities experience multiple challenges. The circumstances that surround the majority of these students exert myriad social and economic pressures. Striving to promote excellence in this context requires a multi-faceted support system to help students achieve success.
  • A Growing Culture of Evidence?
    Findings from a Survey on Data Use at Achieving the Dream Colleges in Washington State. Achieving the Dream (ATD) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving outcomes among community college students, especially low-income students and students of color. A central ATD strategy is to promote a “culture of evidence,” in which colleges collect, analyze, and make decisions based on information about students in order to inform improvements in practice.

SSI Highlights FY 2014

  • Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future (The American Association of Community Colleges)
    A Report From the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges
  • Field Guide for Improving Student Success 
    This guide provides an overview of Achieving the Dream’s institutional improvement framework for increasing student success. It includes examples of what Achieving the Dream institutions have done to transform themselves into more effective institutions. The guide is designed for college leaders who are considering having their colleges join Achieving the Dream, and thus making the necessary commitment to change college policies and practices in ways that enhance student success on a substantial scale.
  • Redesigning Community Colleges for Completion: Lessons From Research on High-Performance Organizations
    After examining the research from within and outside of higher education on organizational performance, this paper identifies eight practices common among high-performance organizations: leadership, focus on the customer, functional alignment, process improvement, use of measurement, employee involvement and professional development, and external linkages. Evidence suggests that these organizational practices have the greatest impact on performance when implemented in concert with one another. The paper assesses the extent to which community colleges generally are following these practices and evaluates current reform efforts in light of models of organizational effectiveness that emerge from the research literature.
  • The Shapeless River: Does a Lack of Structure Inhibit Students' Progress at Community Colleges?
    For many students at community colleges, finding a path to degree completion is the equivalent of navigating a shapeless river on a dark night—but very few studies have explicitly examined the role of structure in student persistence. This paper addresses the issue of student persistence by integrating previously disconnected evidence and drawing on ideas from behavioral economics and psychology. 
  • Toward a New Understanding of Non-Academic Student Support: Four Mechanisms Encouraging Positive Student Outcomes in the Community College
    Despite their best efforts, community colleges continue to see low rates of student persistence and degree attainment, particularly among academically vulnerable students. While low persistence and degree attainment can be attributed in large part to students' academic readiness, non-academic issues also play a part. This paper examines programs and practices that work to address the non-academic needs of students.
  • Diverse Issues in Higher Education
    Diverse stands alone as the only source of critical news, information and insightful commentary on the full range of issues concerning diversity in American higher education.  Diversebegan writing about diversity in higher education long before diversity and multiculturalism became “hot-button” issues. Today, our mission remains as true as it was more than 30 years ago: to provide information that is honest, thorough and balanced. We seek, through traditional and nontraditional mediums, to be change agents and generate public policies that resolve inequities that still exist today. In fulfilling our mission, we believe we are helping to build the educational, cultural, social and economic structures necessary to allow every individual to reach his or her full potential, and thus contribute to the greater good of their community and the nation.
  • Who Gets to Graduate? The New York Times, May 15, 2014
  • Improving Outcomes for Men of Color in Community Colleges (coming soon)
  • Diversity and Equity Initiatives (June 2014)
  • Aspirations of Achievements (CCCSE, May 25, 2014)
  • Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE)
    provides a focus on educational activities and practices that research shows are related to student success. The survey provides ACC faculty and administrators with information on how students spend their time, what they feel they have gained from their classes, how the college supports their learning, and how they assess the quality of their interactions with faculty, counselors and peers.
  • Closing the Gaps by 2015
    was adopted in October 2000 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). The plan, which is directed at closing educational gaps within Texas, as well as between Texas and other states, has four goals: to close the gaps in student participation, student success, excellence, and research. Each goal in the plan includes intermediate targets for assessing progress toward the goals. In addition to the statewide goals and targets established in the plan, higher education institutions, including Austin Community College, submitted their own targets, all of which are available on the THECB website.
  • How African-American Men Will Improve Community Colleges
    Presentation by Dr. Stephanie Hawley (Associate Vice President, College Access Programs, Austin Community College) at the Texas Association in Black Personnel in Higher Education (TACHE) Conference, San Antonio, Texas, March 28, 2014.

CC Leadership

  • AACC Competencies of Community College Leaders
    Community colleges, like many other American institutions, are experiencing a leadership gap as many current leaders retire. Moreover, the leadership skills now required have widened because of greater student diversity, advances in technology, accountability demands, and globalization. Based on its continuing support of the development of community college leaders, AACC has collaborated extensively with its many constituencies to identify and endorse a set of competencies for community college leaders.
  • Community College Leadership: A Multidimensional Model for Leading Change
    Two-year colleges are facing major change. The majority will undergo a turnover in college presidencies in the next ten years, at a time when they are being asked to be engines for economic growth, enable more students--and a greater diversity of students--to gain 21st century qualifications, and provide a pathway to higher degrees, all with reduced state and local funding. Recognizing that future community college leaders--at all levels--will manage increasingly complex organizations, and face very different challenges than their predecessors, this book provides a multidimensional model of leadership suited to these new demands and environments. The model addresses issues of leader cognition, race and gender, the importance of culture, and the need for more collaborative modes of communication and decision making to frame and implement change. It recognizes that there is no longer any one way to lead, and that the next generation of leaders will be more diverse, possess experience and qualifications from a wider variety of careers, and follow new pathways to their positions. Leaders in the future will possess a cultural competency that is fostered by being lifelong learners. Through over 75 individual interviews with leaders and campus members, Eddy is able to provide examples of the model's components in practice and to illuminate which experiences proved the most relevant for these leaders on their route to upper administration. She shows how her model intersects with the leadership competencies defined by the American Association of Community Colleges, and proposes strategies for future leadership development. This book is intended for anyone considering a leadership position, at any level, in a community college; for college administrators and boards responsible for leadership development programs; and for individuals in corresponding organizations who conduct training programs for aspiring leaders. Likewise, those employed at four-year universities may find value in the model as a developmental tool.
  • Community College Leadership and Administration: Theory, Practice, and Change
    A large number of community college leaders and administrators are retiring and will continue to leave administrative positions now and in the years to come. Thus, there is a great need to prepare the next cadre of community college leaders focused on advancing the vision and mission of community colleges: (a) open access to education; (b) comprehensive educational programming; (c) serving the community; (d) teaching and learning; (e) lifelong learning; and (f) student success.
  • Enhanced Learning Communities
    An ACC Student Success Initiative PowerPoint Presentation.
  • What Have We Learned About Learning Communities at Community Colleges?
    In July 2012, MDRC and the National Center for Postsecondary Research released two reports on the effectiveness of learning communities, a popular strategy that places small cohorts of students together in two or more thematically linked courses, usually for a single semester, with added support, such as extra advising or tutoring.

    The theory behind learning communities is that they give students a chance to form stronger relationships with each other and their instructors, engage more deeply with the integrated content of the courses, and access extra support, making it more likely they’ll pass their courses, persist from semester to semester, and graduate with a credential. 
  • Learning Communities (National Center for Postsecondary Research)
    Led by researchers from MDRC, NCPR is evaluating learning communities, in which groups of students enroll together in two or more courses. The evaluation is being conducted at six community colleges around the country, with some colleges' programs focused on developmental math, others focused on developmental English or reading, and one with a career focus. These courses are linked with student success courses, other developmental courses, or college content courses in different configurations across the sites. Transcript-level data are being used to evaluate the impact of assigning students to a learning community, using a number of outcome measures that include progress through developmental education, credit accumulation, and persistence.
  • Learning Communities. U.S. News & World Report College Ranking Lists
    At some schools, such as those below, students typically take two or more linked courses as a group and get to know one another and their professors especially well. The idea is to keep the discussions going after class ends. In spring 2013 we invited college presidents, chief academic officers, deans of students and deans of admissions from more than 1,500 schools to nominate up to 10 institutions with stellar examples of learning communities. Colleges and universities that were mentioned most often are listed here, in alphabetical order.
  • Assessing Developmental Assessment in Community Colleges
    For many students entering community colleges, the first stop on campus is at an assessment center. More than half of these students will be placed into developmental education as a result of their scores on reading, writing, and mathematics entry assessments, yet there is little evidence that this improves student outcomes. 

    This paper examines alternative perspectives on the role of assessment and how it is best implemented, reviews the validity of the most common assessments, and discusses emerging directions in assessment policy and practice. It concludes with implications for policy and research.