Three Important Lessons I Learned at ATD DREAM 2019 

Last week, Starfish by Hobsons had the pleasure of attending Achieving the Dream’s 15th annual DREAM conference in beautiful Long Beach, California.  As I reflect on my time at DREAM, there are three big themes that continue to come up:  
 
1) A Strategic Success Plan is Critical 

Working with nearly 500 clients, we know that institutions are likely to have more than a hundred student success initiatives in place at any time.  And, these same institutions experience regular leadership changes as presidents and provosts regularly pursue new opportunities.  As I met with DREAM attendees, I heard again and again about the challenges they face coordinating these initiatives and understanding which ones are making an impact.  Without a comprehensive and cohesive strategic success plan to align strategies and tactics, develop campus-wide buy-in, and measure initiative impact on students – institutions cannot sustain these efforts or succeed in changing students’ lives. We are working closely with our clients, helping them to prioritize writing success plans, socializing them, and executing against them in pursuit of their student success goals.  
 
2) The Value of a Guided Pathways Initiative   

I also had the opportunity to host and moderate a session at DREAM with our esteemed partners - Sam Hirsch from Community College Philadelphia, Grace Commiso from Bakersfield College and Dhanfu Elston from Career College America. The panelists provided their perspective on implementing Guided Pathways to create a clear student pathway to completion. The standing-room only session and active dialogue made it clear that our partners are not alone as they work to ensure students establish career goals and develop career-relevant academic plans which lead to successful goal completion.  The launch of Starfish Career Connections allows institutions to identify student soft skills and career interests. This becomes an even more powerful representation of Guided Pathways when joined with Starfish Degree Planner - matching personalized degree programs to the student’s selected career path. 
 
3)  Closing the Achievement Gap Remains a Key Strategic Objective 

Starfish has always believed that every student should have the opportunity to finish what they start, regardless of their personal circumstances.  The DREAM attendees we spoke with reiterated this as one of their primary strategic objectives - often referred to as equity.  They connected with our team to learn how our Starfish client and winner of the Achieving the Dream 2019 Leah Meyer Austin Award, Columbus State Community College, was able to “reduce the gap of course completion between its white and black students, from 22 percent to 14, and increase the overall course completion rate to 74 percent.”  They inquired about Starfish Analytics and Starfish Intervention Inventory as tools to identify achievement gaps at their institution and use their student success initiatives to address them. 

Coming out of DREAM, I am really looking forward to the Starfish Spring conference schedule. I realize that statement might seem a little odd. Up next is ACE in Philadelphia this week, the California Community College system at the CSSO Leap conference and AACC in Orlando this April. If you’re going to be at any of these events and interested in catching up, discussing your current efforts, and/or talking about student success planning, please let me know. I’d be honored and happy to speak with you. 

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