Colleges and universities nationwide are acutely focused on increasing student success, measured not only by the completion of valuable credentials, but also as preparation for long, productive and rewarding careers in a rapidly changing economy. Many institutions have implemented innovative programs for specific cohorts of students, but few
have tackled large scale improvements, or the organizational and cultural change required to sustain them.
In 2011, nine colleges in three states— with very different sizes and contexts—set out to increase student success and completion by knocking down the barriers that stop students at each stage of their journey to credential completion. They came together under the umbrella of Completion by Design (CBD) in a structured process to transform students’ experience—and ultimate success—at their colleges.
Completion by Design has a simple, pioneering vision: community college faculty, staff, administrators and students, working collaboratively, can create integrated institutional policies, practices, processes and culture that together improve student performance and completion outcomes.
CBD built upon the work of Achieving the Dream (ATD). ATD institutionalized the central role of data to inform and improve educational reforms, and demonstrated the promise of student-oriented strategies and interventions. CBD further developed this work with a systemic approach to student success that weaves together academic
and support services into integrated Guided Pathways for students. CBD colleges designed, tested, and rolled out Guided Pathways for large numbers of students in three states with the infrastructure and culture changes necessary to support and sustain them.
- College-wide teams representing faculty, staff, administrators and students examined student performance and completion data for multiple years, reviewed research literature and conducted surveys and focus groups.
- The teams identified institutional barriers to completion, including:
- Existing unstructured student pathways at all levels
- Too many academic choices and curricular options
- Inconsistent or misaligned support services
- Unclear and inconsistent communication of information to students
- Inadequate technology to effectively guide and monitor student progress.
- Teams used data to develop at scale, college-wide solutions to problems that could be solved only if academic and student services organizations were aligned on strategies and priorities.
- CBD’s eight design principles provided the colleges a systematic approach to developing student success strategies that were intentionally comprehensive, integrated and targeted at the largest, most difficult completion problems.
- The colleges divided their work to attack multiple fronts simultaneously, requiring them to balance several potentially competing factors:
- sustainable long-term strategy vs. making change as quickly as possible;
- collaborating with important constituencies vs. recognizing that not everyone would adopt the new approach at the same time; and
- implementing at large scale vs. modifying based on learning and experience
- Their work to date has focused on three specific areas: developing academic maps and improved advising models, integrating these new models, and building the organizational capacity for sustainable institutional change.
- CBD set the expectation that the colleges’ strategies were to be designed with scale in mind, eventually reaching most students on campus. That said, many colleges focused implementation initially on first-time-in-college(FTIC) students for several reasons:
- Integrated strategies and interventions could be implemented from the time these students were accepted for admission through completion or exit.
- The impact of comprehensive interactions over the entire journey and multiple years could be measured.
- Data from the cohort could be disaggregated and analyzed.
- Building on their initial experiences, all colleges have expanded their work to include subsequent cohorts of FTIC students and other populations.