by Alana J. Mauger
Montgomery County Community College continues to position itself at the forefront of student learning with recertification as a Leader College by Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count (ATD), a national non-profit organization committed to helping more community college students succeed.
Even before joining ATD in 2006, the College was hard at work improving student learning outcomes by placing student access and success as top priorities in its strategic planning.
“Montgomery County Community College takes a holistic approach to student success,” explained Dr. Karen A. Stout, president. “By leveraging data to align our strategic planning efforts and budget decisions with student success goals, we are able to continually make improvements and remove barriers that impact retention and completion. At the same time, we’re able to engage faculty, administrators and staff from across disciplines and departments in our student success work.”
As part of its overarching Student Success Initiative, the College’s faculty and staff systematically examine all aspects of its students’ educational experiences both inside and outside the classroom—from enhancing student services, like advising and mentoring; to identifying and developing interventions for at-risk cohorts; to redesigning developmental curriculum and placement; to strengthening its focus on completion and increasing transfer opportunities.
Several of the College’s student success projects have national appeal. For example, Barbara Lontz, assistant professor of mathematics, developed a new way of teaching basic developmental math by conceptual units rather than topics. Her curriculum, “Concepts of Numbers,” encourages active learning by starting with a problem, solving it as a group, and then learning the applicable algorithms. The method has increased basic math success rates by 20 percent and math confidence rates by 20-35 percent at the College, and institutions are adopting Lontz’s curriculum and textbook across the U.S. “Concepts of Numbers” was honored as a national 2010 “Innovation of the Year” recipient by the League for Innovation in the Community College.
Another example of a project with broad appeal is “Montco Money Matters” a multimedia financial literacy prototype that helps students understand how to pay for college. The 30-minute, self-guided pilot program, funded through a Next Generation Learning Challenges EDUCAUSE grant, introduces students to the concept of paying for college through topics such as financial aid, loans, grants, scholarships and the long-term implications of current and future debt. The project’s next steps are to build out additional modules under the umbrella of financial literacy and to make the program accessible to school districts within Montgomery County and to the general population at large.
In addition to its work with Achieving the Dream and EDUCAUSE, the College’s student access and success efforts continue to gain momentum with President Stout’s participation in White House Summit for College Opportunity. First held in December 2013 and continuing through next year, the Summit has enabled the College to further develop initiatives around student advising and planning, financial literacy and mentoring—specifically designed to improve college access and completion for at-risk students.
Montgomery is one of 16 institutions in the country to be recertified as Achieving the Dream Leader Colleges in 2014. ATD also welcomed 16 new Leader College institutions to its ranks, bringing the total number of active Leader Colleges to 79. Other Pennsylvania institutions earning recertification this year include Community College of Beaver County, Community College of Philadelphia, and Delaware County Community College.
According to Achieving the Dream, Leader Colleges demonstrate the way in which data can inform policy and practice to help community college students achieve their goals, resulting in improved skills, better employability, and economic growth for families, communities, and the nation as a whole.
To learn more about Montgomery County Community College’s Student Success Initiative, visit its website at mc3.edu or its Think Success blog at mc3success.wordpress.com. To learn more about the work of Achieving the Dream, visit achievingthedream.org.