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January 11, 2013

Student Success

We’re in this together.

From the Chancellor, Mark David Milliron

January is an exciting time in community colleges. It’s the start of a new semester for most faculty, staff, and students. It’s often a time to also come together from across the campus(es) to reflect, connect, and launch into the coming months.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to accept invitations to join two of these convocations this week and help catalyze conversations on the future of higher education. We explored a range of hot topics from the completion agenda to blended and online learning, to gaming in education, to the strategic use of analytics, to the continued rising importance of the liberal arts. The real takeaway for me, however, was how deeply intertwined the work of WGU Texas and Texas community colleges is to increase student access and success. Clearly, we are on this road together.

The first stop was Tarrant County College (TCC), where more than 800 faculty and staff gathered to be welcomed by the always on-mission Chancellor Erma Johnson Hadley, known for her signature opening to any meeting: singing "It’s a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood." And, at Tarrant County College, indeed it is. Thanks to their successful grant writing and fund raising efforts, thousands of students were served in dual enrollment programs, remediation boot camps got struggling learners on track, and minority male initiatives helped first-generation students see their goals more clearly. Moreover, they have adopted a broad critical-thinking initiative for their Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Quality Enhancement Program and are moving and shaking with the national Achieving the Dream Initiative. These are just a few examples of TCC’s programs to help striving students achieve academic success.

The next stop was Amarillo College (AC) where more than 300 faculty and staff gathered facing similar opportunities and challenges in serving a diverse array of adult learners. Amarillo College’s ever community- and student-centered leader, President Paul Matney, told the story of two recent graduates: a married couple that signed on as students as they were teetering on the edge of poverty with three young children to care for. Together this couple did the hard work (with stellar AC faculty and staff support) and both earned their nursing credentials. They’re both working nurses today, and their household income is close to $100,000 a year. Lives were changed forever. This story is not out of the ordinary for AC. Amarillo College is part of an inspiring program with the Amarillo Area Foundation called the Partnership for Postsecondary Success. They have adopted strategic completion and outreach goals and are clearly innovating to help more and more students succeed.

We live in a big, diverse state and the miles between would seem to separate us; but this trip made obvious how much we are all in this together. We share our work to reach the same goal: help improve lives and communities. As the writings of early 20th-century businessman and philanthropist Bernard Baruch remind us, "We didn't all come over on the same ship, but we’re all in the same boat."

Together, we are all working to make sure early intervention helps students learn to be tenacious achievers. Together we are all working to create pathways that support student-centered learning where adults can acquire skills with relevance and value in the workplace and in their lives. Together we are all championing the policies, procedures and initiatives that create deep reaching programs to identify where students fail, and get them past these obstacles back on the pathway to possibility. These common goals are why we at WGU Texas are so focused on partnering with Texas community colleges and expanding our Finish to Go Further articulation programs with colleges such as TCC and AC.

We have different names for our programs, and we work with different funding and business models, but we serve the same communities. We are in this together—the business of improving lives by creating opportunities for students willing to do the work to find their pathway to possibility through education.

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