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Texarkana College has been ranked as the No. 1 community college in the state for students' three-year graduation rates, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The report, released last week, shows that TC has a completion rate of 45.8 percent for the group, or cohort, of students which began as first-time students in 2015. The state average for students' three-year graduation rates from community colleges is 22.8 percent.

TC's administrators attribute the high ranking to the college's culture of expecting student success and several programs they have put in place to support students in their academic careers.

"Several things attribute to it," Dr. Donna McDaniel, TC's vice president of instruction, said. "One is being a part of Achieving the Dream and really monitoring our developmental education students and really tweaking our program to meet those needs and make sure those students get to the level they're supposed to be."

In 2018, TC received the Achieving the Dream Leah Meyer Austin Award, the highest honor awarded to community colleges. It is given to recognize outstanding, transformational change leading to student success and completion. They were one of two colleges in the nation to win the award, which was accompanied by a $25,000 prize.

TC has been a part of Achieving the Dream since 2012. It is a network of more than 220 community colleges that work together to achieve academic success, personal growth and economic opportunity.

In 2015, TC implemented a quality enhancement plan that includes faculty advising, a learning frameworks course and an early alert system to let advisors and professors know if a student is struggling.

"Our faculty and staff are very involved in advising our students so that when they come to Texarkana College, our goal is to get them there, get them done as quickly as possible and get them out," McDaniel said. "It could not happen without our faculty and their willingness to go above and beyond."

Other programs supporting the high completion number include a redesign of Enrollment Services and the Financial Aid Center. The Student Success Center, located in the Palmer Library, offers tutoring services and a developmental math lab.

TC President Dr. Jason Smith, who began his position Jan. 1, said he's seen firsthand the dedication of the faculty and advisors.

"You know the thing that has amazed me is I've associated with a lot of community colleges, a lot of colleges and universities, did an adjunct professorship at a university and what I have found that is different about TC is the commitment of all faculty," he said. "Them taking on the advising, the personalization. We've talked about data, tracking students, it almost sounds like a number, but the personalization of it from the faculty, the professors, down to our recruiters on a personal level. It's real. They know those kids."

In addition, the college has been using tools to create pathways to success, which include streamlining degrees, degree worksheets, a redesign of the school website and faculty and staff training.

Phyllis Deese, TC's vice president of administrative services, said completion numbers are going up at community colleges across Texas.

"I think what you're seeing is a statewide trend upward. In no way is it going downward," she said. "You can even look back two years ago when we were No. 1 in the state for our four-year completion rate, our graduation percentage was only in the 30s. A lot of that has to do with the statewide effort to focus on completion. Getting them in and getting them out and you're seeing an entire upward trend across the state. Next year I think it will be even higher."

The trend can also be considered a reflection of Texas' 60X30 plan, which has a goal of 60 percent of Texas residents between the ages of 25 and 34 having a higher education credential by 2030.

"I just think it's beautifully connected to where the college was in 2012 when you look at our rankings, you really saw TC at the bottom in 2012 and have steadily risen, kind of the phoenix analogy," Deese said. "Everything really began to turn around and do some amazing things for our community in that 2012 year. I don't think it's an accidental connection."

TC almost had to close its doors in 2011, when then-incoming President James Henry Russell looked at the college's financials and realized there was a $5.6 million deficit in the school's $23 million budget and a possible $6.3 million deficit the next year. Russell then asked TC alum and billionaire Ross Perot to donate $5 million to the college, the amount of which Perot gave in $1 million annual increments. In November 2012, Bowie County voters also approved being annexed into TC's taxing district, another move which saved the college.

"It's people and putting the correct procedures in place and people that are willing to do it," McDaniel said of the ranking and of the college's near-closure.

For more information on Texarkana College, go to www.texarkanacollege.edu

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