Two regional schools named Leader Colleges

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published November 22, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 21, 2012 at 2:26 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Students head to class at National Park Community College in Hot Springs. NPCC and College of the Ouachitas in Malvern were selected as two of 14 Leadership Colleges in the country by Achieving the Dream, a national program that promotes student success in higher education.

A couple of two-year colleges in the Tri-Lakes region have won national honors for their work in keeping students in school until they graduate.

College of the Ouachitas in Malvern and National Park Community College in Hot Springs were designated as Leader Colleges by Achieving the Dream, a national network in Silver Spring, Md., that promotes student success in higher education.

The organization called the schools two of 14 “pockets of promise.”

Elyssa Shildneck of Achieving the Dream said in the announcement about NPCC and COTO that the community colleges “exhibited rising persistence and graduation rates, in spite of the difficulties colleges have faced in the past year, particularly related to budget cuts.”

The two Arkansas schools were named along with 12 others across the country. Only Texas, with three colleges, including Texarkana College, designated as Leader Colleges had more schools on the list. North Carolina and South Carolina also had two colleges earning the distinction.

Leadership Colleges, according to Achieving the Dream, demonstrate progress on principles and values to improve programs and services guided by a student-centered focus.

“Student success and completion are primary to our mission at College of the Ouachitas,” said Stephen Schoonmaker, president of COTO. “Our selection as a Leader College for Achieving the Dream and as one of the top-10 finalists for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence clearly demonstrate that we are indeed achieving success with our students and in exciting and innovative ways.”

College of the Ouachitas’ graduation and transfer rates for all students increased from 43.2 percent in 2008-2009 to 51.5 percent in 2011-2012.

The increase, according to the report from Achieving the Dream, came from improving the first-year experience of all students with programs that include mandatory orientation and enrollment in a freshman seminar.

The college also redesigned developmental math classes and made changes in the school’s curriculum, along with implementation of a social network of support called Men on a Mission that targets student success for African-American males.

The college began working with Achieving the Dream in a four-year plan that ended in 2011. That year, Barry Ballard, then president of the college (formerly called Ouachita Technical College), said the program was a great success, and he said he hoped the school would win Leader College status.

“Our goal was to increase the combined rate to 30 to 35 percent. It is now a combined 51 percent, and another 30 percent of our students are staying in school, so our retention rate is growing as well,” Ballard said in July 2011.

National Park Community College increased spring retention of Pell Grant recipients in the school’s student-success course from 60.5 percent, from 2004 to 2007, to 73.8 percent in the school year ending in spring 2011.

This success was also tied to a first-year success class called College Seminar that is now required for all full-time, degree-seeking students. The class itself, according to the report, stems from a redesign using cooperative learning that increases student engagement. The course is now designed to reach 85 percent of the NPCC students.

“The mission of National Park Community college is ‘Learning is our focus; student success is our goal,’” said Sally Carder, president of NPCC. “While the college has increased enrollment over the years, we were concerned about retaining our students. The Achieve the Dream grant enabled us to connect that part of the puzzle by redesigning some of our curriculum and the way it is presented.

“We want our students to leave NPCC with a technical certificate, a two-year degree or the hours needed to transfer to a four-year college.”

Carder said that if NPCC’s students have one of those credentials in hand when they leave the college, they should be well-equipped to succeed in their chosen professions.

Rachel Sing, vice president for community-college relations with Achieving the Dream, said only 66 colleges have achieved Leader College status.

“We are proud of these two schools that have earned this respected distinction,” she said. “These Leader Colleges raised the bar on practices that help more students succeed.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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