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ACC’s $2.1M program to provide academic coaches to help students finish their studies

Alamance Community College has launched a new $2.1 million “coaching” program to help students overcome obstacles to completing their studies at ACC.

ACC had a 53.3 percent curriculum completion rate – which refers to students enrolled in programs and courses culminating with a degree or certificate – based on the latest annual report on student achievement published by the North Carolina Community Colleges System (NCCCS) in July 2021. At 53.3 percent, the curriculum completion rate at ACC was below the system’s “excellence level” (63.13 percent) and the statewide average (55.3 percent), according to the NCCCS.

The state’s latest annual report on community college student achievement tracked curriculum completion rates for students who initially enrolled at one of the state’s 58 community colleges in the fall of 2016. The NCCCS report gives a glimpse of seven areas of academic performance for students who had either graduated or transferred to a four-year institution, or were still enrolled four years later, which in the case the fall of 2020.

ACC’s trustees heard details during their latest meeting about the new “Persistence from Application to Completion in Education” (PACE) coaching program, which is being funded by a $2.1 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education.

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The purpose of ACC’s new program is to provide each student with a coach who will provide “wraparound support” and shepherd him or her through their program to completion, ACC president Dr. Algie Gatewood elaborated this week in an interview with The Alamance News.

The PACE coaching program involves a seven-step process that begins with a faculty member raising “an alert” about a student, said Dr. Jon Howle, PACE success coach for the Business, Arts & Sciences division at ACC. “Perhaps a student has stopped coming to class or turning in work,” Howle explained to the trustees last week. “Our team then comes in…we connect with that student, ask them to tell us what’s going on [and] work together to connect the student to what resources can help.”

Meanwhile, ACC has launched “Single Stop,” an organization that provides financial counseling and referrals to other resources for students, Davis told the trustees last week.
One of the initial goals for the PACE program is to make sure that coaches are out front and “very visible” to students, said Rose Webster, department head of Academic Advising and Title III project director at ACC. It’s “somebody they’re not going to forget is there,” she told the trustees, adding, “You have to build that connection first.” ACC is also planning to hire a career counseling coach for the program, though that position is vacant at the moment, she said.

Howle told the trustees about how the coaching team recently helped one ACC student, a veteran he identified as “Michael,” had been struggling in math. One of the coaches connected that student with two of ACC’s math instructors, Zak Matthews and Robert (“Bob”) Davis, who intervened and put together what Howle called a “network of support” to get Michael back on track. “It turned out he was struggling with PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder],” Howle told the trustees.

Trustee Julie Scott Emmons asked the team how it might approach students “who have undiagnosed issues” that potentially affect their academic success at ACC. “A veteran obviously is diagnosed by the VA [or another medical provider],” she said. “I’m just putting that on the radar as being a barrier to success.”

“What are the limitations of the grant funding?” asked the newest ACC trustee, Dr. Mark Gordon, president of Alamance Regional Medical Center, who was appointed to serve the remaining term of trustee Craig Thompson following his resignation from the trustee board in 2021.
“Each dollar [of the grant] is assigned to a certain thing,” Webster said. Right now, most of the grant funding for the first year of the five-year term of the grant is being used to fund the salaries for three student success coaches, as well as those for her, Howle, lead success coach Angela Davis, and two vacant positions, Webster told the trustees.

ACC is planning to host a weeklong event this fall to make sure students know that help is readily available if they need it, lead PACE coach Angela Davis said during the group’s presentation to the trustees.

Davis told the trustees that “the coaching model is gaining traction nationally,” as research demonstrates that students who participate in such programs are more likely to remain enrolled and complete their programs.

“We are doing everything we can at ACC to help the state reach two million more by 2030,” Gatewood told the newspaper this week, referring to a statewide initiative that aims to have two million people, ages 25 to 44, complete education and training beyond high school by the year 2030. “To do less than that, I think,” Gatewood added, “would be derelict in our duty – all that [goes] right back to our economy.”

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