By: 
Marcia Layton Turner
Honoree: 
William Rainey Harper College

Five years ago, William Rainey Harper College in Illinois joined Achieving the Dream, an organization composed of community colleges committed to helping students complete their education.

The partnership gave the college a framework and a new focus: student success and completion. Examining the barriers to completion, officials determined that students who start in developmental courses—particularly two or more—were at greater risk of not graduating.

Those initial college courses were barriers. “There simply weren’t enough students getting through developmental courses,” says Sheryl Otto, assistant provost/dean of student development at Harper.

To address the situation, the college initiated Project Success in 2011, which is designed to support students placed in developmental courses. “It’s a true partnership between the counselors, students and faculty,” says Otto.

Of the 15,000 students enrolled in a typical semester, approximately 800 new students were placed in at least two developmental courses. Of those 800 candidates, 335 were randomly selected as the first set of program participants.

Each student in the initial group was assigned a student development counselor who serves as a liaison to other resources on campus and provides one-on-one support and encouragement. The goal was to create a personal connection to the college and ensure the students were aware of campus resources available to them. The group was then monitored during the 2011 fall semester using Starfish Retention Solutions.

Some 278 faculty members were added to the program’s system and notified which of their students were part of Project Success.

In surveys—sent several times a semester through Starfish’s Early Alert software—faculty were asked to identify Project Success students who were struggling. Underperformers were then contacted to make an appointment with a counselor to develop a success plan.

Students in Project Success have a much higher chance of persisting and graduating, statistics show. From 2011 to 2014, an average of 60 percent of students a year were identified by their instructors, and 72 percent of those students followed through to meet with their counselors. Those who followed a success plan had a 26-percentage-point higher fall-to-spring persistence rate than those who did not.

“Counselor intervention provided after a student has been flagged has proven invaluable to our student success rates,” says Otto.