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What is Achieving the Dream?

Championing Colleges Across the Country

Achieving the Dream (ATD) is a partner and champion of hard working leaders at more than 300 community colleges across the country. The community colleges that Achieving the Dream works with are distinct: ATD Colleges choose transformation over tradition, curiosity over inaction, innovation over status quo. ATD helps to build customized growth plans to address the unique challenges each institution faces by drawing on our expert coaches, groundbreaking programs, and national peer network. The Achieving the Dream program provides institutional leaders, faculty, and staff with actionable solutions grounded in years of experience and the knowledge to support student success and achievement.

The ATD Impact: 20 Years ago and Today

VGCC Achieving the Dream

VGCC has partnered with Achieving the Dream (ATD), an organization that helps college students be successful by adding bold, large scale improvements to our current success strategies. As a part of our work with ATD, we’ve learned that many of our students face unique challenges that make it harder to succeed. We believe in providing our students with equitable support to reach their educational and personal goals as they advance through their career pathway to achieve a livable wage. ATD has helped us to analyze the data, examine equity issues, and organize efforts to help our population of students who need different support.

Through our strategic partnership with Achieving the Dream (ATD), we are committed to implementing bold, large-scale improvements to our existing success strategies. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by many of our students, we are dedicated to fostering an environment of equitable support that enables them to reach their educational and personal goals.
  1. Increase the percentage of Adult Basic Education students enrolling in a credit or short-term workforce pathway leading to a livable wage (or better) credential.
    • A continuation of building on our newly created CE to CU pathways and short-term workforce aligned programs by way of converting our ABE students to short-term and/or curriculum program courses that lead toward livable wage credential
  2. Increase term-to-term retention, specifically spring to fall, and number of credentials awarded for all students.
    • Develop more eight-week courses to support student demand, as research suggests that retention rates are higher for many students taking eight-week courses
  3. Close opportunity gaps in course success by increasing overall course success by 3% annually over 3 years.
    • Close opportunity gaps by focusing on equity and poverty. Specific intervention/strategies included guided career identification in the admissions process; career cluster mapping with articulated on and off ramps; teaching and learning strategies determined to have a greater positive effect on opportunity youth and adults; addressing poverty challenges and poverty mindsets through college-wide professional development; building personal relationships through our QEP; and mentoring initiatives.
Due to high poverty rates in our service area, the College’s equity work focuses on reducing student enrollment and success gaps for underserved populations experiencing significant life challenges. As mentioned earlier, poverty rates across our four-county service area are higher than state and national rates, with the highest being 29% in one county. Students from that county are usually first-generation students who are unprepared for college. The population of historically underserved residents in our four-county area are disproportionately Black or African American. We are addressing inequities related to poverty and underservice in several ways.

  • First, strengthening our teaching and learning practices is a goal of our new teaching and learning center, which provides support to all faculty and staff.
  • We are focusing especially on supporting adult learners in achieving their goals by addressing stressors outside of the classroom that affect their success: our student assistance program provides mental health support, and a food pantry helps with food insecurity.
  • Our early college and dual enrollment populations are increasing, which helps students make progress toward a college degree at no cost.
  • Additionally, we engage middle and high school students in summer camps designed to provide them with career exploration and access to STEM programs on a college campus. In addition to providing young students with fun summer activities, camps expose them and their families to VGCC.
  • We offered professional development opportunities to all faculty and staff throughout the year. In 2023, the keynote session for our college-wide professional development day focused on the effects of poverty on the brain. Faculty and staff learned from an area expert that for individuals living in poverty, the brain is consistently engaged in threat response activities which leads to hypersensitivity to any type of stress. Prolonged toxic stress alters the brain structure, which shuts down areas of the brain associated with socially acceptable behavior. Learning about the biological response to poverty helped the college better understand the importance of empathy in the service we provide to students. In turn, we expect this understanding to translate into increased support for students working to improve their lives through education.

By implementing the goals and strategies we have developed and continually assessing and refining their approaches, we are leveraging our institutional capacity for teaching and learning while advancing equity. This holistic approach ensures that students receive a quality education and personalized support in an inclusive environment that prepares them for success in their academic and professional pursuits. We support and provide ongoing professional development, make data-informed decisions, provide support services, develop and implement equity-minded policies and practices, encourage cultural competency among faculty and staff, and collaborate and form partnerships with community organizations, businesses and other educational institutions

VGCC is leveraging Equity in Teaching & Learning to support our student success goals in the following ways:

  1. Created a Center for Teaching and Learning staffed with former VGCC instructors with advanced knowledge and skills in all aspects of the teaching and learning process.
  2. The Board of Trustees drafted a rubric to use in evaluating their policies through an equity lens. The rubric includes themes and aspects specific to Staffing/Personnel, Curriculum/Student Services, Procurement, and Facilities. It will soon be adopted for formal policy evaluation by the full Board.
  3. Formed a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Council whose mission and purpose is to ensure that ALL of our students are recognized, represented, and respected. Our definition of diversity includes (but is not limited to) ability, age, culture, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, political perspective, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. The DEIB Council cares deeply about creating an inclusive campus environment where students, faculty, and staff are able to thrive. Their work focuses on identifying challenges to this goal, developing strategies to address problems, advocating for necessary changes, and implementing initiatives that will sustain an equitable educational experience and sense of belonging for every member of our community.
  4. Developed master course outlines for all general education classes to assist faculty with preparing courses and achieve consistency in outcomes across sections of the same course.
At VGCC, we employ a framework adapted from the concept of being a “student-ready college” (see Tia Brown McNair, et. Al.) The framework includes data discovery of our current (and future) students, context of our environment(s), collaborative leadership and accountability at all levels, laser-focus on building student readiness, and creating a culture of belief in students. This framework weaves in intentionality for equity at all levels and prioritizes learning over “efficiency”. This framework seeks to adjust and align culture to support our mission.

Within this overarching framework, we employ other frameworks to support our work. One framework we employ that has proven effective is the guided pathways approach. While we are still maturing in our adoption of guided pathways, we feel that we have made great strides in a couple of areas: non-credit to credit pathways and program alignment to service area livable wage jobs/careers.

In addition to guided pathways, another framework we use to support institutional change is the focus on equity, which prioritizes identifying and addressing inequities in student outcomes, especially for those students who experience poverty. First, we adopted Ruby Payne’s “Framework for Understanding Poverty” to address our own ideas and biases about poverty. We engaged in a poverty simulation and

learned how the brain is affected by poverty. We embraced a practice of examining institutional data, implementing targeted interventions and fostering a campus culture that promotes equity and inclusivity.

Finally, our institution embraces a data-informed decision-making framework, where we use data analytics and assessment tools to drive our transformation efforts. This approach allows us to identify areas of improvement, track progress and make evidence-based decisions to optimize student success and institutional effectiveness.

Dr. Ramona D. Cox, Associate Vice President, Student Services
Phone: 252-738-3261
Email: coxr@vgcc.edu

Frankie Frink, Faculty Instructor, English
Phone: 252-738-3513
Email: frinkf@vgcc.edu

Vance-Granville + Achieving the Dream = Success

Six Cosmetology students will represent VGCC at an upcoming SkillsUSA competition
Students from VGCC's Medical Assisting program
VGCC Student smiling while wearing a back pack outside