Austin Community College seeks ways to boost graduation rate

Austin Community College, determined to improve retention and graduation rates, recently took the rare step of inviting companies to bid for a contract to help students earn degrees or certificates.

It’s not unusual for community colleges to work with civic, nonprofit and other groups in guiding students through the education pipeline. However, requesting proposals for “student coaching services,” as the college put it, was a twist that officials at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Association of Community Colleges had never seen before in the Lone Star State.

But last week, the college decided against awarding a contract after receiving sealed bids from three Austin-based nonprofits: Capital IDEA, College Forward and Goodwill Central Texas.

“The bids received were not practical in terms of cost and delivery of service,” said Jessica Vess, a spokeswoman for ACC. Proposed costs and other details of the bids were not disclosed publicly.

The episode underscores how the college, with 11 campuses and 38,462 students, is getting increasingly serious and creative about stepping up advising. Among the reasons: Despite some improvement, ACC’s graduation rate remains well below the statewide average for community colleges. Many of its students get little or no one-on-one help from advisers who could help them stay on track.

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