Eight of the US’s Top 10 Community Colleges are in North Carolina: What’s Their Secret to Student Success?

March 11, 2022 Watermark Insights

North Carolina is home to eight of the top 10 community colleges in the nation, according to a recent SmartAsset study. In fact, the state’s community college system is so strong that it swept all six top spots.

The ranking is based on student-to-faculty ratio, cost of tuition, and, perhaps most importantly, graduation and transfer rates. While the first two metrics are relatively easy to control, it can be harder to explain the reasons behind overall student success. So what are North Carolina community colleges doing right? And how can other community colleges tap into similar success?

There’s a common thread to a majority of the top-performing community colleges: They have partnered with Watermark (formerly Aviso Retention) and have been leveraging their Student Success platform for an average of 5 years. The platform uses predictive analytics to identify at-risk students early on, then connects these individuals to the necessary resources or interventions, and improves student engagement. Watermark has delivered proven results nationwide in engagement, retention, persistence, and completion rates - measuring its technology’s efficacy by the number of students crossing the finish line to graduation or transferring to a four-year institution.

We spoke to some of the top-performing community colleges about how Watermark solutions are helping them stand out among the nation’s 820 community colleges. Let’s look at these institutions in greater detail to hear their first-hand experience with Watermark.

#1 Brunswick Community College | Bolivia, NC

For the second year in a row, SmartAsset named Brunswick Community College the nation’s number one community college. The school’s 82% graduation and transfer rate is part of what propelled it to the top of the list. How does Brunswick Community College continue to lead the pack?

The school’s president, Gene Smith, says that Watermark has bolstered the school's focus on student success. President Smith says, “Since implementing Watermark, we are so much better equipped to identify students in need and connect them to campus support services.” He continues, “We’ve opened up communication lines with students about their course successes and struggles, and as a result, we’ve increased our understanding of persistence and retention patterns amongst our student populations.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Denise Houchen-Clagett, Ed.D adds that Watermark’s platform helped faculty and staff provide seamless support services during students’ transition to remote schooling. She highlights that the platform’s texting capabilities were especially helpful as they enabled Brunswick staff to communicate with students to assess their technology needs. Houchen-Clagett says, “With Watermark, success coaches are able to continue working their caseloads, communicating with students, and providing outreach services to those in need.”

#2 Pamlico Community College | Grantsboro, NC

Pamlico Community College in Grantsboro, North Carolina boasts a 76% graduation and transfer rate and is the least expensive community college in the top 10. By leveraging Watermark’s notices about student performance, Cristy Lewis Warner, Counselor and Director of the Career Center at Pamlico, stays ahead of student needs. She explains, “Watermark keeps instructors, advisors and counselors updated on students in real-time with any concerns regarding the student, as well as how they are doing academically.” The institution participated in the First in the World (FITW) research program with impressive results. FITW, a five-year study, was designed to determine if proactive and individualized success coaching at 10 North Carolina Community Colleges would improve student success. At Pamlico Community College, Course Completion for students attempting Spring and Fall coursework has increased 16.3% since working with Watermark.

#3 Carteret Community College | Morehead City, NC

Carteret Community College is the third-highest ranking community college. Allison Daniel, Director, Counseling, Disabilities, and Retention at Carteret appreciates Watermark’s holistic approach to student information. “Watermark gives us the ability to quickly and easily access the right information and get it in the right hands to make decisions - ensuring we support the right student at the right time.” Daniel uses the Watermark platform to encourage success among Carteret students. She appreciates the ability to tailor the software to the students’ and school’s needs, and says that through Watermark, success coaches and counselors can “track the students and the communication from all campus stakeholders in seconds.” Carteret participated in a five-year study with First in the World and is currently engaged with the Minority Male Success Initiative (MMSI), a three-year research study with Watermark that aims to improve minority male student outcomes by promoting participation and collaboration between the student and institution.

#4 Montgomery Community College | Troy, NC

Montgomery Community College in Troy, North Carolina takes great pride in its graduation and transfer rate of 70%. “Witnessing a student be successful is one of the most rewarding aspects of working in education,” says Diana Sanchez, who leads Counseling & Disability Services at Montgomery. “The Watermark early alert system is a tremendous asset in helping us increase student success.” Montgomery Community College is using the Watermark student success platform to increase retention and completion rates among minority male students as part of the MMSI, which is currently in its second year of research.

#5 Sampson Community College | Clinton, NC

With a graduation transfer rate of 74%, Sampson Community college ranks fifth in the top 10 US community colleges. “When asking other institutions how they addressed retention and completion, Watermark was always one of the top three answers,” says Dr. Marvin Rondon, Dean of Student Services and Institutional Effectiveness at Sampson. Dr. Rondon finds Watermark’s data-driven approach and predictive analytics to be especially insightful when presenting opportunities to expand the college's enrollment and retention strategies. Automated alerts and easy-click referrals allow his team to proactively reach out to students and provide more personalized support. He notes, “With the help of Watermark, we are able to serve all students in a way that we’ve never been able to before.” Sampson Community College is also participating in the Minority Male Success Initiative three-year research study with Watermark.

#6 College of The Albemarle | Elizabeth City, NC

College of The Albemarle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, ranks sixth in the nation-wide community college rankings with a graduation and transfer rate of 75%, the 19th-highest in the study of more than 820 community colleges in the United States. Since 2015, Watermark has been a valuable partner with the College of The Albemarle. Dr. Eushekia Hewitt, Director of Advising and Student Success, appreciates the transparency the Watermark platform provides, as well as the ability to send alert notifications and track team progress to avoid duplicate work. “With Watermark, we can ensure all students are reached out to and engaged in a personal way. As a result of the information and insights Watermark provides us, we are seeing the direct impact our efforts are having on the student population.” The institution also participated in a five-year study with First in the World, and the team finds the platform “easy to use, intuitive, and extremely user-friendly.”

#9 Randolph Community College | Asheboro, NC

Randolph Community College ranks ninth out of 820 community colleges surveyed. Randolph Success Coach Pam Wiggins credits Watermark with keeping students in school, saying that the platform is “one of the most critical tools in my success coaching toolbox.” She uses Watermark’s data-specific tools daily to uncover the risk factors that affect individual students and develop interventions that enable success. With comprehensive outreach tools and trend-setting patterns, she identifies which students require interventions. Suzanne Rohrbaugh, Vice President for Instructional Services, adds that the Watermark platform “improves internal communication among various areas of the college to be better informed about students and their progress.” The persistence rate for high-risk students has increased by 12% since working with Watermark.

Being a higher education student is hard, but being an at-risk higher education student is even harder. And, on top of navigating a sometimes overwhelming system, today’s students face increased uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Students can flounder before finding the help they need, and similarly, institutions can struggle to identify these at-risk students before it’s too late. With Watermark, institutions like yours can connect students to the resources they need to be successful. Just take it from these North Carolina Community Colleges, which achieved top 10 community colleges in America.

Find out how a partnership with Watermark can help both your institution and your students succeed.

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