Comprised of five independent colleges, Alamo Colleges District (ACD) is the largest provider of higher education in South Texas. A longtime AFIT member, ACD was named a 2018 recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA). ACD is one of only five organizations to receive the award in 2018 and is the first community college system to achieve this level of recognition in the history of the program.
Today, we are talking with ACD Director of Strategic Initiatives and Performance Excellence Dr. Mecca Salahuddin, who will be joining us as a learning partner at the 2019 Summer Institute along with ACD Chancellor Dr. Mike Flores.
AFIT: Thanks for being with us today, Mecca. Despite the many challenges facing higher education, Alamo Colleges District has managed to achieve the best four-year student graduation rate in Texas, double the number of degrees and certificates conferred to students from 2013 to 2017, and increase scholarships from 580 to 2,175, with the amount awarded growing from $500,000 to over $2 million from 2010 to 2018. What key factors have contributed to ACD's success?
Mecca Salahuddin: There were two foundational factors that elevated the work already being done across our district contributing to the successes in degrees and certificates and scholarship awards. The first was our implementation of the Baldrige framework. Using the 6 categories (leadership; strategy; customers; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; workforce; and operations), the framework allowed us to identify and implement processes across the district designed to improve the student experience. We were able to identify areas for improvement and put student success at the center of everything we did.
The second factor was the adoption of The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX). We took our overall focus on student success a step further by creating a "wildly important goal" of increasing the number of degrees and certificates. The engagement of employees at every level of the organization in this singular goal allowed for a cadence of accountability and a sense of a shared mission of empowering our diverse communities for success.
AFIT: The first part of this year's learning theme focuses on 'transformative leadership.' What does 'transformative leadership' mean to you?
MS: For me, transformative leadership related to student success is a moral imperative. It is of great responsibility to be a higher education institution that creates opportunities for students to identify a path to life success. Data has shown the significant social and economic impact obtaining a higher education degree or certificate can provide. However, it’s the leaders who are willing to transform the way they create and respond to their students' needs that will ultimately ensure a clear path. It’s a matter of having a clear purpose and staying on purpose towards helping students achieve their goals.
AFIT: The second part of our learning theme focuses on creating a culture of innovation. From your experience, how does ACD foster a culture of innovation?
MS: ACD realized early that in order to shift from student access to student success there had to also be a cultural shift in the ways we identified and implemented strategies to address student outcomes. Therefore, we moved towards centering the student voice in our implementation efforts. Our AlamoADVISE model is an example of innovation. Starting with the student experience from entry to completion, we mapped out key advising touch points to ensure students were progressing and completing their academic curriculum.
Implementation of AlamoADVISE involved efforts in identifying the resources, human and financial, and taking the intelligent risks that were needed to be successful. Another innovative example of centering the student voice is the development of our Advocacy Centers. We listened to students who shared some of the challenges and barriers to them persisting at our colleges and completing their degree. One of those challenges was basic food insecurity. Working with our community partners, we have developed a holistic approach to meeting these students' challenges.
AFIT: What would you recommend to other AFIT member organizations that may be struggling to improve enrollment and student success?
MS: Among AFIT member organizations there is already a commitment to improvement. To strengthen that commitment to address student enrollment and success, I recommend incorporating your students' and community members' voices in many, if not all, aspects of your decisions. Also, strategically identifying innovative strategies for improvement and having the courage to implement these strategies knowing the success of your students depends upon it.
Join us at AFIT's 2019 Summer Institute, where Mecca Salahuddin and ACD Chancellor Mike Flores will be joining us as learning partners.