Northwest among first cohort in Achieving the Dream initiative

Published 1:51 am Thursday, February 18, 2021

Inaugural cohort of seven colleges will focus on increasing equitable student success

and aligning postsecondary pathways to sustainable careers

SENATOBIA –  Achieving the Dream today announced the first cohort of colleges, including Northwest Mississippi Community College, in its new Building Resiliency in Rural Communities for the Future of Work initiative.

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The initiative aims to increase equitable student success by strengthening rural colleges’ capacity to prepare students for careers in today’s economy. The initiative is funded by the Cognizant U.S. Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., The Community Focus Fund at the Chicago Community Foundation,, and Ascendium Education Group.

“Rural community colleges have long served as drivers of their communities’ economic and civic vitality, playing a critical role in ensuring social and economic mobility,” said ATD president and CEO Dr. Karen A. Stout. “As Achieving the Dream works to support our colleges in fostering diverse and equitable campuses, we are mindful of the importance of building a network that reflects the diversity of institutions across our country. This initiative adds to ATD’s experience working with other rural colleges in our network as well as the nation’s tribal colleges and universities, offering new learning opportunities around the role of rural community colleges as workforce and economic development engines.”

Building Resiliency in Rural Communities for the Future of Work will increase rural colleges’ capacity to succeed with whole-college reform efforts, provide students with the workforce skills needed in today and tomorrow’s economy, and connect students with careers in the digital economy that pay family-sustaining wages. In addition, participating institutions’ reform efforts will include providing academic and personal supports and narrowing equity gaps.

“We at Northwest Mississippi Community College are honored to be joining this first Building Resiliency in Rural Communities for the Future of Work cohort,” said Northwest President, Dr. Michael J. Heindl. “We know that the vision of Northwest, ‘Transforming students’ lives, enriching our communities and striving for excellence in our educational programs and services,’ fits perfectly with Achieving the Dream goals of increasing capacity with whole-college reform efforts. These efforts include skills for students that are needed for today’s and tomorrow’s workforce and the opportunity to connect more students with careers in the digital economy that will pay family-sustaining wages.”

The other six colleges that have joined this initial cohort, and the ATD Network, include:

  • Berkshire Community College – Pittsfield, MA
  • Clovis Community College – Clovis, NM
  • Columbia-Greene Community College – Hudson, NY
  • Halifax Community College – Weldon, NC
  • Louisiana State University-Eunice – Eunice, LA
  • Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College – Cumberland, KY

“Achieving the Dream is thrilled to work with these colleges to build a deeper understanding across higher education — and among policy and funding communities for how rural colleges and their partners can promote the economic mobility of students, particularly as part of our equity work,” said Dr. Monica Parrish Trent, ATD’s Vice President for Network Engagement.

Funders of this important initiative are also looking forward to supporting these colleges as they begin their work.

“As we work to ensure equitable access to the education and training necessary to succeed in jobs driving the future, community colleges are key to reaching people in rural areas,” said Kristen Titus, Executive Director, Cognizant U.S. Foundation. “We are proud to support ATD and this initiative as colleges build the capacity to fulfill a critical role in our country’s economic recovery and in providing everyone with opportunities for economic mobility.”

“Equitable access to skills and real-world work experience is key to connecting students to good jobs, regardless of their ZIP code,” said Monique Baptiste, Vice President of Global Philanthropy, JPMorgan Chase. “As part of JPMorgan Chase’s efforts to advance racial equity and prepare people for the future of work, we’re committed to driving an inclusive economic recovery, including strengthening community college programs and connecting students to the skills needed to succeed in today’s workforce.”

“Rural community colleges are well equipped to provide upskilling opportunities for the rapidly changing workforce in their areas,” said Julie Gehrki, vice president of philanthropy for “Walmart’s investment will enable Achieving the Dream to accelerate their work with these colleges, and we’re thrilled to support their effort.”

“We recognize that rural community colleges are anchors in their communities, providing opportunities for learners, employers and the local economy,” said Amy Kerwin, vice president – education philanthropy at Ascendium Education Group. “We’re pleased to support this cohort as they exchange ideas on how to initiate large-scale institutional change to prepare and increase the number of rural learners from low-income backgrounds that graduate and enter the workforce.”

In January, members of the cohort participated in a Learning Launch Kickoff Institute to onboard to the program and to ATD. On Tuesday, Feb. 16, the cohort was featured virtually at a Spotlight Session as part of DREAM 2021. Additionally, there will be a Rural Convening this summer, as well as ongoing coaching and capacity building for the colleges through ATD.

Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 300 community colleges committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity. ATD is making progress in closing equity gaps and accelerating student success through a unique change process that builds each college’s institutional capacities in seven essential areas. ATD, along with nearly 75 experienced coaches and advisors, works closely with Network colleges in 45 states and the District of Columbia to reach more than 4 million community college students.

Learn more about Building Resiliency in Rural Communities for the Future of Work at For more information about Northwest, visit