More students are graduating from Pierce College, and college officials credit recent changes that aim to ease social and economic obstacles.
Last year, the rate of degree-seeking students graduating within three years was 31 percent, a 63 percent increase since 2008, Chancellor Michele Johnson said.
About 30 percent of community college students across the country earn an associate degree within three years, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Completion of the two-year degree is measured after three years because community college students often go to school while working and taking care of family.
“Many of them have tremendous life barriers,” Johnson said.
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Pierce College has paid special attention to closing the achievement gap among racial minorities and first-generation students.
For its efforts, the college recently won the $25,000 Leah Meyer Austin award from Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit that works to improve student success.
Pierce College joined Achieving the Dream in 2012 to get an outsider perspective on how to improve its approach, Johnson said.
Coaches from the nonprofit and Pierce College staff studied classroom, enrollment and graduation data by categories, including age, gender and race, to inform their decisions.
“We help them go through a pretty rigorous process,” said Karen Stout, the president and CEO of Achieving the Dream.
As a result of that process, the college:
▪ Redirected $3 million of existing funds into student and faculty services.
▪ Extended the priority registration for students nearing degree completion to include those who have been absent for up to four quarters to help working students who may have to leave to earn money.
▪ Redesigned pre-college math and English courses by reducing lectures and giving students exercises that resemble problems they might face in life outside of school.
▪ Began requiring students to complete an orientation and take a class that teaches time management and learning strategies. Harvard gives first-year students this experience, Johnson said, “Shouldn’t we be doing this?”
College officials say they are seeing results. Roughly 13 percent of students of color completed a degree within three years in 2010. By 2016, the number grew to a little more than 21 percent.
Pierce College is aiming to grow its overall graduation rate to 45 percent by 2020.
“We need to keep going,” Johnson said.
Michael Simpson: 253-597-8670