Southwest Tennessee Community College awarded $2.1M grant to close academic achievement gaps between White students and students of color

More than 7,500 Southwest students will be impacted annually over the next five years through enhanced equity in teaching and learning.

For more information, contact: Diana Fedinec, Director of Public Relations and Media (901) 333-4247

The Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP) recently announced Southwest Tennessee Community College has been awarded a federal Title III grant of more than $2.1 million to foster equity and inclusion and student success through IDEAS—Inclusive Design for Equity in Academic Success.

The SIP Grant will provide funds over a five-year period to support Southwest’s ongoing efforts to close equity and academic achievement gaps between White students and students of color in course success, retention and graduation.  Set to launch spring 2020, IDEAS will focus on enhancing teaching and learning by providing culturally responsive and supplemental instruction to students in core courses that are critical to completion with an emphasis on those courses that have a 30 percent or higher failure rate. The goal is to foster student success and close achievement gaps through focused instruction, professional academic advising, peer mentoring/coaching, tutoring or supplemental instruction, and high impact practices infused throughout the curriculum. Each year, more than 75 percent of Southwest students enroll in these courses, also known as gatekeeper courses.

The grant also provides funds for faculty to receive equity and inclusion professional development and training that will focus on best practices for redesigning courses using race-conscious, culturally responsive course design methods, while integrating an academic/growth mindset approach to teaching and learning.

“Our strategic focus is to help our students overcome their academic, financial and life challenges to earn a credential,” Southwest President Dr. Tracy D. Hall said. “This grant provides critical funding that will empower Southwest to continue its mission to increase upward social mobility for area residents with transformative education that prepares them for the workforce or continued education at the university level.”

Associate Vice President for Retention and Student Success Dr. Jacqueline Taylor helped design IDEAS. She says the grant award is a testament to the equity-minded student success work that permeates Southwest’s culture and strategic direction.  “IDEAS embraces a logic model that incorporates intentional focus on equity and inclusion in teaching and learning. This grant affords us the strategic ability to achieve critical gains in academic and holistic student success outcomes. For us, higher education truly is a social justice issue that requires the courageous and committed work outlined in this IDEAS grant.”

Dr. Taylor says IDEAS will tackle achievement disparities over the next five years by:

  1. Increasing the College’s professional academic advising capacity by approximately 20 percent, an approach launched two years ago that has played a vital role in the College doubling its graduation rate and increasing the number of associate degrees awarded by 13 percent in 2017;
  2. Increasing group tutoring or supplemental instruction, coaching and peer mentoring in and for core courses, also known as gatekeeper courses, that have a failure rate of 30 percent or higher—interventions that are estimated to help the College close achievement gaps by at least 10 percent over the next 5 years.
  3. Increasing professional development opportunities for faculty that focus on culturally responsive teaching methods to promote greater student engagement in the classroom, including six additional sessions (2 per semester) on course redesign and equity and inclusion in teaching and learning;
  4. Increasing by 15 percent the number of courses that employ High Impact Practices and Innovation (HIPI) methods, a program that promotes evidenced-based, equitable and high-quality, high-impact student centered teaching and learning—the first of its kind in the state of Tennessee; and
  5. Democratizing accurate College data to promote data-informed decisions throughout the College. 

Awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Title III-Strengthening Institutions Program was established by the No Child Left Behind legislation to help post-secondary schools expand the capacity to serve low-income students by providing funds to improve and strengthen their academic quality, institutional management, and fiscal stability, as well as build a framework to help students complete college.

"This grant will allow Southwest to build on its Achieving the Dream work to transform the student experience,” Taylor said.  “As an ATD college, a critical part of our work is approaching student success holistically through wrap-around support services—from enrollment to completion. Thus, Southwest is dedicated to transformative equity work to foster success inside and outside the classroom.  These funds will enable us to scale this work up even more and help more students achieve their dreams and life goals.”

Hall adds that the grant will have a profound impact on the success of Southwest overall.  “Student success is directly linked to Southwest success.  When we foster greater equity in teaching and learning and close achievement gaps, our students succeed in greater numbers and that translates into better financial stability for Southwest through outcomes-based funding,” she said. “When our students succeed, so does the greater community when these same students emerge as graduates who are ready for the next level in the workplace and education. Everyone wins.”