Program directors shared the strategies that helped them improve outcomes during a panel at GtCNN’s 2016 Peer Learning Conference.
Continual improvement is at the core of the Gateway to College model, and the biennial Peer Learning Conference serves to celebrate achievements and develop new ways to improve our program nationwide. The 11th Peer Learning Conference on July 27 – 29th at University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis brought together program and national staff with a particular focus on the theme of “Gateway to College and Career Readiness.”
In 2016, GtCNN redeveloped the Gateway Program Success (GPS) initiative to create an easily implemented program improvement plan. The initiative set outcome benchmarks in four areas: First-term success, fall-to-fall persistence, two-year persistence, and three-year graduation rate.
On day one of the conference, GtCNN President Emily Froimson commended our programs’ strengths and stressed the importance of our work, while reminding those present of our need to continue our improvement efforts.
“We are part of a social justice movement aimed at closing the achievement gap and creating opportunity for those without hope,” President Froimson said to the crowd. “While education alone won’t solve the problem of inequity in our country, we know that education is a necessary part of the solution. So that means that, collectively, we can and we must do more.”
While examples of success exist throughout the network, six programs were recognized for their achievements. Camden County College, Holyoke Community College, and Mount Wachusett Community College exceeded all GPS benchmarks; and Bristol Community College, Front Range Community College, and Pueblo Community College exceeded the graduation benchmark.
A panel of program directors from the award-winning programs shared what they’ve done to achieve strong outcomes.
“To the kids, we say: You’ve got to show up and do your work and be nice,” Vivian Ostrowski, director at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts, said. “Our philosophy with them is relentless kindness, with both of those words being equally important: relentless kindness.”
Jeanelle Soto-Quintana, director at Pueblo Community College in Colorado, consistently referred to her students as her family. “They have a primary resource specialist, but everybody else is extended. Extended family: That means that we’re teaching and role-modeling for our students how to love and be compassionate with each other.”
Dr. Irvin Sweeney at Camden County College, in Camden, New Jersey, said his team needed to understand the community in which they worked. “We had to understand that we were operating in a community where success was defined by your young people as not having a problem with the law by the age of 18, by not being shot; the young ladies not being pregnant,” he said. To serve their unique community, they built a strong administrative team and worked closely with alumni, parents, members from the college, and other stakeholders to advise and advocate for their program.
For many, using and understanding student data was key to improving outcomes.
“Be married to your data,” said Jeanelle. “Review it. Don’t be afraid of it. What are your weaknesses and how can you change?” After reviewing outcome data, Jeanelle’s team went through curriculum realignment with their college, improving the relevance of their high school courses and building stronger relationships with college professors. “Just be married to the success, not the idea of that activity. Review that data, and be willing to change.”
Beyond their suggestions, the directors’ genuine passion for the work shone through as the foundation of a successful Gateway program. Whether it was through relentless kindness, intrusive advising, or family-style support, the remarkable perseverance Gateway students possess is matched only by the professionals that support them.