Achieving the Dream (ATD) today awarded Sinclair Community College the 2023 Leah Meyer Austin Award, its highest recognition given annually to a college in the ATD Network that demonstrates exemplary practices and effective strategies that have led to a student-focused culture, notable increases in student outcomes, and reduction of equity gaps. The announcement was made at the organization’s annual DREAM conference, that brought over 2,000 community college leaders, faculty, and student affairs staff to Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center.
Specifically, Sinclair increased four-year completion from 22 percent to 30 percent over a four-year period. For Black students, four-year completion increased from 15 percent to 22 percent. For adult students aged 24 and older, a quarter of whom are Black, four-year completion nearly doubled, from 26 percent to 47 percent. Most impressive is that the college was able to maintain completion momentum for students through the disruption of the pandemic.
“This award’s rigorous requirements are meant to motivate and recognize whole college transformation that results in greater student success and equity,” says Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “Sinclair’s story is one of deep commitment to student success goals at all levels—Board of Trustees, the president, faculty and staff, and administrative leaders. This ‘all in’ on student success approach and their long view on change knowing that their unwavering focus on student success mattered offers the field an important lesson on persistence and patience.”
One of the first colleges of the ATD Network, Sinclair has worked with ATD since 2005, and it earned ATD Leader College status in 2011 and 2019. Based on the persistent work of its leadership, faculty, and staff, the college earned ATD’s Leader College of Distinction status in 2021. Receiving ATD’s highest honor in 2023 “reflects years of effort to maximize equity and student success,” says Steven L. Johnson, Ph.D., who has been Sinclair’s president and CEO for 20 years. “From comprehensive high-level policy reviews to individual student-advisor conversations, Sinclair remains true to its mission to find the need and endeavor to meet it by demonstrating its commitment to ensuring that all students achieve their goals.”
Sinclair has not only demonstrated success at improving outcomes for their students, but its faculty, staff, and administration also have demonstrated a deep commitment to increasing equitable practice. The college’s efforts are guided by a simple mantra its leaders call “customization at scale.”
“We have learned there is no one-size-fits-all for our diverse population, so we have worked to customize services and education for all of our students,” says Kathleen Cleary, PhD, senior vice president of workforce solutions.
The Leah Meyer Austin Award was established in 2008 to recognize outstanding achievement in supporting and promoting student success through the creation of a culture of evidence, continuous improvement, systemic institutional change, broad engagement of stakeholders, and equity, with particular attention to low-income students and students of color. The annual prize is given in honor of Leah Meyer Austin, former senior vice president for program development and organizational learning at the Lumina Foundation and emerita director of the ATD Board of Directors, whose visionary leadership shaped the development of Achieving the Dream. Sinclair Community College is the twenty-first ATD Network College to receive the award.
About Achieving the Dream (ATD)
Achieving the Dream (ATD) is a partner and champion of more than 300 community colleges across the country. Drawing on our expert coaches, groundbreaking programs, and national peer network, we provide institutions with integrated, tailored support for every aspect of their work — from foundational capacities such as leadership, data, and equity to intentional strategies for supporting students holistically, building K–12 partnerships, and more. We call this Whole College Transformation. Our vision is for every college to be a catalyst for equitable, antiracist, and economically vibrant communities.