Student-centered Transformation at Jackson College: Our “Total Commitment to Student Success”

A number of years ago at Jackson College, a community college located in Jackson, Michigan, we had an epiphany. For a very long time, we focused our efforts on getting students college-ready. Like most community colleges across the country, we offered a host of developmental education courses in reading, writing, and math. We piloted small-scale initiatives to help students who were not deemed ready for college yet. We did all this work with good intentions, but with minimal, small scale results.

We believed we could and should do more to support the success of our students. To that end, about eight years ago, we began working to reimagine the future of our institution, engaging in research and contemplating innovative strategies that tested long-held assumptions about what works best for students.

We concluded that nothing short of cultural and institutional transformation was necessary to get us where we needed to be. Long story short, we became laser focused on what we call our Total Commitment to Student Success, or “TCS2” for short.

TCS2 has led us to make many significant changes as an institution. For example, we implemented guided pathways, a student-centered model that provides clear curricular roadmaps for students to more efficiently and effectively complete a credential. We redesigned the role of college advisors into Student Success Navigators, and hired enough Navigators to ensure that we had client ratios of less than 1:300. Our Navigators proactively check in with their students regularly throughout a term. We also worked to replace standalone developmental education with more innovative and effective co-requisite course designs. We adopted a holistic approach to help students address the range of non-academic challenges they, unfortunately, too often encounter. Some examples of our “Serving the Whole Student” efforts included opening a food pantry, modifying our student meal plans, expanding transportation options, adding a health clinic in partnership with the local hospital, and creating a mental health clinic on our central campus, called the Oasis Center, in partnership with a local provider, which is readily accessible to students who need the support.

Looking back, we have recognized the TCS2 transformation we have experienced could be summed up in this way: Instead of focusing on getting students college-ready, we shifted the focus on us as a college to be more “student-ready.”[i]

By putting students first and becoming more “student-ready” as a college, we recognized that we needed to ensure that equity is at the center of everything we do. As an equity-driven institution, we aim to give every student what they need to be successful...

  • Instead of inquiring about how to address student actions or behaviors that might be holding students back from being successful, it requires that we ask hard questions of ourselves about what college policies and practices might be holding students back—and changing them.
  • Instead of relying on a transaction-based college advising model that enrolls students in classes as quickly and conveniently as possible, TCS2 has guided us to embrace a relationship-based college guidance model that is rooted in Navigators taking the time to get to know their students and supporting them throughout their academic journey.
  • Instead of offering more developmental courses or adding more pre-requisites to gateway courses in response to the growing numbers of students who are deemed “unprepared” for college, we have tapped into the grit and talents that students already have, connected them with the best, most student-centered and passionate faculty on campus from day one, and provided them a launch pad into college-level coursework their very first term.
  • Instead of accepting the notion that college is supposed to be challenging and weed some students out, we moved to proactively provide more holistic supports to students, so they can focus on their academics rather than worrying about where they are going to get their next meal or how they are going to manage the unrelenting stress in their lives.

The results to date of our TCS2 transformation and our efforts to become more “student-ready” have been extraordinary. In 2015, 35% of our first-time-in-college (FITIAC) students earned at least six college credits their first term; in 2017, that percent doubled, reaching over 71%. In 2015, 17% of our students completed both college math and English in their first year; in 2017, that percent also more than doubled at just over 36%. 

Something I’m particularly excited about is what our math department is embarking on. Last semester (Fall 2018), we piloted an innovative co-requisite math model whereby students, who placed in developmental math, enrolled in two math classes (one developmental, one college-level), actively studied math for two hours each day Monday through Thursday, and received collaborative inquiry-based instruction from some our best faculty on campus. Previously, just about two in ten students who placed in developmental math would pass college-level math within two years... In the pilot, nearly all students passed their developmental math class with flying colors, and better yet, nearly seven out of ten students passed college level math their very first semester.

Our mission at Jackson College is “Together, We Inspire and Transform Lives.” As part of our efforts to transform lives, we realized we needed to transform ourselves. We have grown deeply committed to the service of others and are putting equity at the center of everything we do by being totally committed to the success of each and every student.

Our transformation is only just beginning. We continue to strive to be a student-ready college in many ways, including by offering more 7-week classes, embracing competency-based education, and expanding our early college programs. We are on an exciting journey and welcome the chance to connect with other equity-driven, student-centered colleges, so we can learn from each other and inspire each other. We have a great responsibility as higher education institutions; the work we do matters.

Kate Thirolf, Ph.D., is Vice President for Instruction at Jackson College. More about Jackson College can be found at

[i] Note: The book Becoming a Student-Ready College (2016, Association of American Colleges & Universities) by Tia Brown McNair, Susan Albertine, Michelle Asha Cooper, Nicole McDonald and Thomas Major, Jr. deserves credit for coining the term and promoting the need for colleges to be “student-ready.”


Author: Kathryn Thirolf
Posted: February. 12, 2019


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