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Northern Virginia Community College recognized for Beating the Odds to improve student success

Innovative approaches show promise in increasing college completion for underrepresented students

Northern Virginia Community College is recognized nationally for “beating the odds” in helping students most prone to dropping out of college stay on track toward graduation. In a new national report published by HCM Strategists, a Washington, D.C., public policy advocacy firm, NOVA is profiled for its efforts to improve college completion rates and prepare students for successful careers.

The unfortunate reality is that approximately 2.2 million students will enroll as full-time freshmen in America’s colleges and universities this fall, but less than 60 percent will earn a four-year degree within six years and less than 30 percent will earn a two-year degree within three years. It is even worse for low-income and minority students, putting America further behind in meeting future workforce needs.

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, nearly two-thirds of available jobs by 2018 will require some sort of postsecondary education. Employers are expected to need nearly 22 million new workers with postsecondary degrees but colleges will fall short of meeting that need by 3 million graduates.

Developed with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “Beating the Odds: What It Means and Why It’s Important” is the result of a series of conversations with leaders from 32 postsecondary institutions about what colleges must do to help students – particularly low-income, minority and adult students – successfully earn a degree. Each of the colleges and universities featured in the report is considered a national model for their approaches to boost completion rates.

“The odds of a low-income American completing college haven’t changed in at least 20 years,” said Kristin Conklin, founding partner at HCM Strategists. “NOVA is demonstrating how to beat those odds, ensure student success and help our economy recover. Today these campuses are the exception. ‘Beating the Odds’ provides a blueprint for others to follow and help change the exception to the rule in postsecondary education.”

NOVA faces significant challenges that hinder graduation rates, including college readiness, effectiveness of developmental education, support to students outside of class, building academic plans at early stages and helping students make progress as planned. To help increase student success, NOVA has developed a number of strategies that include redesigning the way developmental math and English classes are delivered, providing financial aid incentives for full-time study and initiating several new programs to support students.

“For several years we have been focused on increasing graduation rates to help our students reach their goals. Our First-Year Experience and New Student Orientation programs are providing students with the tools they need to persist from semester to semester and year to year,” NOVA President Robert G. Templin Jr. said. “We’re also getting great results from our Pathway to the Baccalaureate program that provides personalized support services to high-risk students starting in high school and continuing through completion at NOVA and enrollment at a four-year college or university. In fact, we recently expanded the Pathway Program to additional schools to serve more students.”

The institutions featured in the “Beating the Odds” report represent different sizes, sectors and programs, but share a similar focus on serving a low-income, minority and mobile student population and improving persistently low degree attainment rates. The report identified four key approaches that are necessary for postsecondary institutions to dramatically improve student success:

  • Help students prepare for the rigors of college, including summer-bridge and dual-enrollment programs, career and college-ready coordination and better credit-transfer policies.
  • Focus on retention through student support, including redesigning courses – like remedial education – and providing targeted and comprehensive support services like academic advising and counseling.
  • Find new and innovative ways for students to access postsecondary education by more effectively serving the unique needs of today’s students and keeping them on track to graduation. 
  • Demonstrate leadership in creating a culture of completion by uniting the campus in a shared responsibility for student success and completion.

Be sure to read the full reportFuture conversations are expected to continue the Beating the Odds effort and share strategies and policies aimed at improving the odds of success in higher education. A video of the September 2010 convening is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=nby7bs99XuQ. An additional platform for sharing resources and best practices is available at www.completionmatters.org


Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America's largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through NOVA Online. For more information about NOVA and its programs or services, call 703-323-3000 or visit the College's Web site, www.nvcc.edu.