Community College Group Launches Texas Success Center

The Texas Association of Community Colleges on Tuesday announced the creation of a new Texas Success Center, which is designed to provide statewide coherence and coordination to the state's approaches to student success and to advocate for related policies.

At a press conference at the state Capitol, Lone Star Community College System Chancellor Richard Carpenter estimated that there are about 30 different student success programs at Texas colleges. They are programs designed to help students complete their two-year degrees or successfully move on to a four-year university. "We find ourselves initiative rich," he said. "All of these initiatives must be herded."

Created to do just that, the new center will be supported by about $2.4 million provided by the state's 50 community colleges, the Kresge Foundation, the Houston Endowment, the Greater Texas Foundation, the Meadows Foundation and TG, a nonprofit corporation that provides financial planning support to Texas students. Noting that more than 70 percent of Texas students begin their higher education in community college — including nearly 80 percent of minority students — TACC President Rey Garcia said, "We have to get it right."

The Kresge Foundation, which is based in Detroit and seeks to improve low-income students' post-secondary performance, has led the push for such centers, which already exist in Arkansas, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio. Caroline Altman Smith, the senior program officer at the foundation, said the centers help to connect the dots in a state's student success efforts.

"We really see Texas as ground zero for the college completion agenda," she said, noting that 10 percent of the country's community college students are in Texas. The foundation, she said, has put $3 million into initiatives in the state, including $750,000 for the new success center.

On behalf of the Texas philanthropic organizations involved, the Houston Endowment's senior program officer, George Grainger, observed that too many students are not earning the credentials they are striving for and said the new coordinated effort "gives us a chance to make some good headway on these challenges."

In Texas, separate from the national push for such centers, a desire for a new entity — aside from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board — to serve as a hub for community college policy and advocacy has been percolating for a few years.

In 2011, Texas legislators added a rider to the state budget allocating up to $350,000 to hire a national consultant to develop a blueprint for a community college system. In 2012, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems delivered its report, recommending the creation of a "Texas Community College and Workforce Policy Center."

The report said “important constituents have lost faith in the [coordinating board’s] ability to play the role of state system administrative body for community colleges.” Then-chairman of the coordinating board, Fred Heldenfels, issued a response calling that a “misplaced assertion” derived, in part, from a failure to interview key lawmakers and policy leaders.

While it closely mirrors the approach recommended by the 2012 report, Garcia said the new center was not a direct result of that proposal. "I think this center is a demonstration that the 50 colleges, when they want to, can act cohesively and in a unified way to achieve state outcomes and state goals without having to create a new state agency or bureaucracy," he said.

The executive director of the new center will be Angela Oriano, a former associate director at the Center for Community College Student Engagement, which researches best practices for encouraging student success and is based at the University of Texas at Austin. 

Officials indicated that the center will focus on key areas including workforce and skills alignment, college readiness and transfer and articulation agreements. The Texas Success Center will host a regional conference — the Texas DREAM Institute — in the fall of 2014, modeled on the national conferences of Achieving the Dream, an organization with ties to many Texas colleges that encourages institutions to make data-based decisions about how to improve student success.

“The institute will not only serve as an early way to support the center’s priority to enhance and accelerate learning across institutions,” Greater Texas Foundation President Wynn Rosser said in a statement, “but will also serve as a strong symbol of and reinforce the state’s commitment to its community college students and the importance of the student success agenda.”

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