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January 2011
Using Data-Driven Decisions to Ensure Student Success
By Tony Zeiss

     Businesses succeed when they implement data-driven decisions to ensure their profitability. Successful companies examine sales figures, monthly expenditures, consumer survey metrics, and many other data sets on a daily basis. This analytical approach is essential to any solid business operation.

     Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) is taking a similar approach as it sharpens its focus on student success. High schools and universities have singular goals—working with students to achieve diplomas and degrees, respectively. Community colleges, conversely, have multiple goals—working with students to attain degrees, diplomas, certifications; helping students transfer to four-year institutions; working with students to complete personal enrichment goals; and more. This multi-layered approach doesn’t lessen the importance of student success, but it brings challenges when measuring success rates and identifying barriers to success.


Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count

     In 2010, CPCC took a bold step to signify its commitment to student success and institutional improvement. Together with 26 other community colleges from across the country, CPCC joined Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count, a multi-year initiative focused on identifying new strategies to improve student success, close achievement gaps and increase retention, persistence and completion rates.

     Conceived in 2004 by the Lumina Foundation for Education and seven national partner organizations, Achieving the Dream focuses on creating a “culture of evidence” on community college campuses where data collection and analysis drive efforts to identify problems that prevent students from achieving their educational goals of obtaining a credential (degree, diploma or certificate) or transferring to a four-year university. The initiative is particularly concerned about student groups that traditionally have faced significant barriers to success, including students of color and low-income students.

     The College is already fully engaged in the Achieving the Dream process. We have established cross-departmental teams to examine relevant data, to begin in-depth analysis of identified trends and to strategize on short- and long-term solutions to key challenges. The results will not be immediate, but they will be dramatic, and I look forward to seeing the impact of the process on our students.


Community Colleges Critical to Job Success

     This increased emphasis on data-driven decisions and prioritized focus on areas that will increase student success will ultimately benefit not only our students, but also the entire Mecklenburg County region. As we continue to face economic turmoil across this country, the value of community colleges is becoming increasingly apparent and important. Community colleges have long been recognized for the opportunities they present to their students, but are now being hailed as a real solution to the changing demographics of our economy.

     We are making a difference by offering a workforce development solution that helps the region attract new businesses and new jobs to the area, by developing training programs for local businesses, and by training and educating not only tomorrow’s, but today’s workforce.

     CPCC remains committed to respond to the local, regional and global trends in the job market.

     CPCC works closely with the local business community to ensure our courses reflect the relevant needs of today’s industries. Each of our program areas benefits from advisory councils, comprised of local executives and experts, who continuously evaluate our course outlines, curriculum content and job prospects for that industry.

     We continue to provide new programs and training to serve the needs of our business community. For example, in direct support of the growing energy industry in the greater Charlotte area, the CPCC created a Science Technology Engineering Math and Sustainability (STEM-S) Division, established a new Mechatronics degree, and more.

     Because of our increased relevance and the greater needs of our citizens, CPCC’s demand for classes and training continues to grow while our funding is reduced at both the local and state levels. We have seen our enrollment rise over 16.5 percent in the past three years, while our funding has been cut by over $14 million.

     Nevertheless, CPCC faculty and staff remain committed to serving our students and our community in these challenging times. As we are forced to do more with less, Achieving the Dream will focus our efforts, improve efficiencies and increase our successes, which ultimately will enhance the skills for our region’s workforce.

     I am proud that CPCC continues to be in the forefront of workforce and economic development in Mecklenburg County. Our partnership with Achieving the Dream will help us strategically work with our local businesses to ensure lasting success for our students and our community.

     Content provided by Dr. Tony Zeiss, president of Central Piedmont Community College. Signifying a commitment to student success and institutional improvement, CPCC has joined what is now 130 other community colleges from around the country in becoming members of the Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count! initiative. More information at:

Dr. Tony Zeiss is president of Central Piedmont Community College.
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