CSN seeks to increase low graduation rate

The College of Southern Nevada has a problem, and everyone knows it: Hardly anyone there actually graduates.

That's an exaggeration, but not by much.

CSN's graduation rate stood at 4.6 percent two years ago. It climbed to 9 percent last year and stands at 10.6 percent now.

To help bring the rate up, college officials have partnered with a national nonprofit group that aims to reform community colleges .

"We look at this as kind of an elite, exclusive thing that's come our way," said Michael Richards, president of the College of Southern Nevada.

Richards is scheduled to announce the selection of the school as an Achieving the Dream institution at a town hall meeting today.

The College of Southern Nevada is one of 25 community colleges to join the effort, bringing the total to almost 200. It is the only one in Nevada to be selected.

Achieving the Dream was launched in 2004 by the Lumina Foundation as a coordinated effort to help community college students succeed. Though its efforts are supposed to help all students, the group's officials say they are particularly interested in helping low-income and minority students. The Indianapolis-based nonprofit group hopes to increase college graduation rates across the country.

Nevada's largest college with about 39,000 students in the fall 2011, the College of Southern Nevada has a student body that is more than half minorities, including 22 percent Hispanic.

Richards said the designation will help CSN because Achieving the Dream provides coaches to the college to help analyze data and design better ways to help students.

He said recent boosts in student services were designed to help CSN get the Achieving the Dream status. The designation will cost the college $75,000 a year.

In addition to the coaching, Richards said, grants often are available to Achieving the Dream institutions that are not available to other institutions.

"We think this will open up some giving opportunities from foundations like Lumina," Richards said.

He said students can expect a more hands-on approach from college officials, meaning they will get more counseling ahead of graduation.

"We've admitted students and allowed them to shape their own way through college. That has to change now."

There is anecdotal evidence at community colleges across the country that Achieving the Dream status has helped.

But a study released last year found little had changed in student outcomes. The study, done by the nonprofit social services think tank MDRC, concluded that much had changed within the participating colleges. The program's backers say more time is needed to determine how those changes will affect student outcomes.

Janice Glasper, who will head CSN's efforts to implement Achieving the Dream, said the initial goal will be to discover where the college is failing.

"We're trying to find out where the breakdown is, where the ball was dropped."

Glasper said she expects to develop programs targeted at students who belong to at-risk populations.

"It's a way for us to look inward. We know we can do better."

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307.