Joe Wyatt
Published March 2, 2022

A one-credit-hour course at Amarillo College has had such a positive impact on student retention – a key driver of student attainment – that most new students are now required to take it.

The course is called Learning Frameworks and it was conceived to help first-time-in-college students hone their time-management and study skills, navigate academia and basically succeed in higher education.

However, it was soon revised to include significant emphasis on helping students succeed in careers and in life, and that’s when retention among those who had taken the class surged markedly in comparison to those who had not.

For example, among a cohort of first-time-in-college students who completed Learning Frameworks in Fall 2020, 86 percent of them returned to AC for the spring semester. Meanwhile, of those in the same cohort who did not take the course, only 69 percent returned in the spring.

Fall-to-Fall retention also proved significant: 77 percent of the students from the 2020 cohort that took the class returned in Fall 2021, and only 47 percent of the students from the Fall 2020 cohort that did not take the class returned in Fall 2021.

It was in Fall 2021 when Learning Frameworks became a requirement for the vast majority of students at AC.

“The numbers were simply too compelling to discount,” said Collin Witherspoon, AC’s executive director of institutional research. “When students are retained from semester to semester they are more likely to attain their goals.

“We are definitely at the forefront of using data to drive our decision-making,” he said, “and universally requiring our students to take this class is an example of how data can drive student success.”

The buy-in from students blossomed after AC restructured Learning Frameworks to place greater emphasis on career pathways and life skills, according to Amy Pifer, coordinator of First-Year Experience.

“Learning Frameworks incorporates the guided-pathways model to streamline a student’s journey through college by clarifying their career path and getting them on that path,” Pifer said. “Students document their self-exploration and edification towards educational, personal and career goals through project-based learning in which they create a self-reflective portfolio.

“It’s definitely a career-focused class, and once they start seeing how Frameworks ties into their personal aspirations and future success, they start connecting the dots and experience those aha moments we love to see.”

Jaydin Jones is an AC student who successfully completed Learning Frameworks and now serves as a peer mentor to others who are immersed in the class.

“The course truly benefits students who are just starting out,” Jones said. “It opened my eyes not only to all the resources available at the College, but to the possibilities beyond. Now I get to help guide and impact others, and I love what I do.”

Data-driven decision-making is hardly new to AC. The College was named a Top 5 community college by the Aspen Institute in 2021, and early this year it received recertification as a Leader College of Distinction by Achieving the Dream – prestigious distinctions clearly driven by impactful data.

“Moving forward, we will continue to evaluate and fine-tune Learning Frameworks in the best interests of the students we serve,” Pifer said. “Having a personal game plan, a direction with distinct steps leading to real aspirations, solidifies and affirms their decisions.

“It’s clear that retention is enhanced and success is achieved when students have a better understanding of who they are, what they want to do, and how they are going to get there.”