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History of Achieving the Dream

History of ATD at NOVA

NOVA joined Achieving the Dream (ATD) in 2007 and had many early achievements in the area of student success. When NOVA joined the network, the College established a Core Team and six Campus Teams. By implementing Learning Communities, New Student Orientation, and the course redesigns of developmental math, English, and student development (SDV), NOVA demonstrated “sustained student success improvement,” thus becoming an ATD Leader College in 2010. The Core Team played a critical role in selecting the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for SACSCOC reaffirmation of accreditation in 2011.

In 2014, after an extensive policy audit that looked at the barriers to student success, the Core Team recommended the Six Policy Changes, the Start Strong Initiative, and helped to implement them. The next major ATD undertaking was the Financial Stability Program. NOVA received the Working Student Success Network (WSSN) grant from ATD and became part of a small cohort of ATD colleges which addressed the financial barriers to academic success. This program has now become part of the NOVA institutional framework.

Prior to 2015, there had not been a large-scale change in the College, a precondition for a meaningful break-through in student success reform. In 2015, a new president created a strategic plan which incorporated large-scale change through the introduction of Guided Pathways and a restructured advising model. In addition, there was a significant reorganization of the academic structure. These changes have made a meaningful student success agenda possible.

From 2016 – 2018, NOVA’s efforts shifted to allow for strategic planning and implementation. While the efforts were shifted to focus on structural changes, the ATD at NOVA efforts at the campus level began to diverge. In 2019, with support from ATD leadership and NOVA senior leadership, NOVA announced a Revamping of ATD at NOVA. During this revamping process, NOVA applied for and received the ATD Leader College of Distinction award. With this leadership designation and a redesigned organizational structure, ATD at NOVA is poised to begin the second phase of student success work.

ATD at NOVA has implemented several major initiatives to help achieve student success. Please visit our Current Initiatives page for our active practices. The history of major initiatives in reverse chronological order:

2020: NOVA became and Achieving the Dream Leader College of Distinction


2019: Revamping ATD at NOVA

NOVA made significant changes to the organization and composition of ATD efforts at NOVA. The efforts allowed for a renewed focus to begin moving the marker for three student success metrics; retention, graduation and transfer. In addition, campus teams were streamlined with a singular charge and the resources to focus on gaps pertaining to their campus needs. NOVA has developed a comprehensive student success agenda with the motivated goals to actively pursue the strategic goal: Every Student Succeeds.

2015 – 2018: ATD efforts shifted to focus on structural changes at the College to improve student success metrics.

Significant contributions were made to the development of the 2017-2023 Strategic Plan as well as the structural developments of the college.

NOVA participated in the CLIMB Initiative led by Raj Chetty et al. to improve the upward mobility and success for students at NOVA and across America. Using data from NOVA and other institutions, the CLIMB Initiative produced publicly available data to inform researchers and practitioners aiming to increase student success at their institutions.

NOVA participated in the Gallup Well-Being Index with NOVA alumni to measure five distinct aspects of life that are important to most individuals. The findings of the study were presented in a national media event hosted with Gallup. Additionally, NOVA shared the study and data in a presentation at the ATD Data & Analytics Summit in September 2018.

2014: Start Strong Initiative

The most significant development to come out of the ATD teams’ work is the recommendation for six College-wide policy changes which are based on the positive effects to student retention and GPA.

NOVA’s Start Strong initiative puts students on the right pathway to academic success. To provide a solid foundation, the College implemented six new policies for all first-time-to-college students aged 17 to 24:

  • Take placement tests before registration.
  • Attend Student Orientation before registration.
  • Meet with an advisor before registration.
  • Enroll in developmental courses (English and/or math) during the first semester, if placed.
  • Complete a College Success Skills (SDV 100 or 101) course within the first year.
  • Meet the On-Time Registration requirement.

2014: GPS for Success
Renamed (Sept 2020): First Year Admissions

Designed for first-time-to-college students aged 17 to 24, GPS for Success focuses on teaching academic planning and self-evaluation skills through mandatory, case management-style academic advising. The two-tiered model combines intensive professional advising throughout the first year of matriculation followed by a transition to a faculty advisor, typically during the second term of enrollment.

2014: Working Student Success Network (WSSN) Grant

Working Students Success Network (WSSN) aims to help students not only complete certificates and degrees, but also develop financial skills and connect their credentials to jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. With the goal of addressing barriers to student success, WSSN provides NOVA students with easy access to community and financial resources, free tax preparation services, financial support during mid-semester emergencies, financial coaching services, employment support and much more. WSSN was implemented at NOVA in 2014 and services to students continue to increase as awareness grows.

NOTE: The WSSN is now known as the Financial Stability Program (FSP). Within the FSP, NOVA launched the Single Stop partnership (connects government and nonprofit benefits to students), Green Bag program (food collection and distribution), Student Emergency Grant, and several additional programs designed to connect students to valuable resources.

2013: Developmental English (Redesign)

NOVA’s developmental English courses were redesigned as part of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) initiative to integrate reading and writing instruction and move students into college-level English more efficiently. Through collaboration between faculty and the tutoring and writing centers, assistance is available inside and outside the classroom to help students succeed in these intensive courses.

NOTE: With the introduction of redesigned developmental English courses also came a renumbering of these courses. Through Fall 2012, ENG 1-9 were the course numbers for developmental English. Effective Spring 2013, these courses were renumbered to ENF 1-3 (ENF = English Fundamentals).

2013: Developmental Math (Redesign)

With a grant from the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT), developmental math courses have been redesigned based on the principle that students learn math by doing math. The redesign utilizes an Emporium Model where students progress through modules using interactive computer programs, providing them with the necessary skills to be successful in their credit-level math courses. Faculty and tutors provide students with individualized assistance.

NOTE: Previously, the developmental math courses were numbered MTH 1-7 and MTH 60. Following the redesign, developmental math courses are numbered MTT 1-9 (MTT = Developmental Math Technology-Based).

2013: SDV (Redesign)

Student success courses at community colleges have been shown to improve student achievement and persistence. Called College Success Skills (SDV 100 or 101) at NOVA, the course has been revised extensively over the last four years to include a common syllabus and course template that ensure uniform quality and attention to student learning objectives. In addition to focusing on College policies and procedures, the course helps students develop skills for academic success, self-management, and decision making.

2010: NOVA became an Achieving the Dream Leader College

2009: New Student Orientation (NSO) / Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR)

New Student Orientation (NSO) is a three-hour orientation designed for students and parents. At NSO, parents and students learn about resources that support student success at NOVA, receive information regarding transfer and career resources and about financing their education. They also have an opportunity to meet with faculty advisors, counselors, and financial aid specialists and to tour NOVA facilities.

NOTE: NSO is now known as orientation and is available through a variety of formats and available in program options to for various enrollment populations.

Student Orientation Advising and Registration (SOAR) sessions are designed for students who are attending college for the first time and provide assistance with understanding placement test results, choosing and registering for courses, discussing payment deadlines and financial aid, and provide an introduction to college resources.

NOTE: SOAR became part of the design for the GPS for Success Program. GPS for Success is designed to help advising specialists and faculty provide students who are recent high school graduates, have never been to college before and are enrolled in an academic program with a comprehensive advising experience. GPS for Success is the result of NOVA's Quality Enhancement Plan, which was established for the reaccreditation process for SACS. Our focus is to commit the same level of quality of instruction and engagement to the academic advising process.

2009: First-Year Experience (FYE)

NOVA introduced the First-Year Experience (FYE) to provide first-year students with academic, career, and social support during their first year of college. FYE encompasses a number of programs and events including SOAR, NSO, Student Development/College Success Courses (e.g., SDV 100), and more.

NOTE: The FYE became part of the GPS for Success Program

2008: Learning Communities (LCs)

A Learning Community (LC) is a pair of linked courses that is team-taught to effectively engage students in the process of learning. A common cohort of students enrolls in both linked classes and faculty work together on shared assignments and learning opportunities.

The goal is to build community and to foster connections among students, between students and their professors, and between academic disciplines. Learning Communities provide an opportunity for students to build a supportive academic network and to make connections within NOVA.

NOTE: LCs were discontinued in 2010 as a result of a lack of improvement to student success and retention. The developmental math and English redesign projects began shortly thereafter.