New ACC campus first to expand Austin branch’s learning model

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LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — As one Austin Community College campus closes, another celebrates its grand opening Wednesday.

The San Gabriel campus in Leander plans to host an open house for people to explore the new facility and meet with faculty and advisors from 10-11:30 a.m. 

The new campus is modeled in part on the success ACC found with its ACCelerator lab at the Highland campus in central Austin, which opened to students nearly four years ago. Leaders of the community college system plan to expand the model to two more campuses after San Gabriel because they’ve seen it work.

“Ninety-nine percent of all students we surveyed tell other students to come in and use this place,” Curtiss Stevens, executive director of the ACCelerator, said.

At first glance, the huge space at what was the Highland Mall looks like a computer lab, filled with four-person pods with computers at each station. But, Stevens said, the former JC Penney store is much more.

Teachers hold interactive classes there, where students can learn at their own pace and return to the lab to finish work and assignments. What makes the ACCelerator successful, though, Stevens said, are the tutors, academic coaches, and career advisors who are stationed around the perimeter of the football-field-sized space.

“You don’t have to leave this building to go get help,” he said. “You can turn around and help is there.”

He means that literally. During a developmental math class holding its first session of the summer on Tuesday, a tutor in a purple vest sat off to the side of the group of students. He listened while the professor walked students through the course, ready to jump in if a student needed a little more help. “We always say the answer is two steps away,” Stevens said.

That’s what Colin Blake likes about the space. The ACC student working on a degree in computer science usually takes classes at the Riverside campus, close to where he lives in south Austin, but was at the ACCelerator on Tuesday working on his summer schedule.

“I work nearby and I had some time to kill before I need to go in, so I just thought I’d pop in and do a little bit of schoolwork,” he said. 

That job was the result of the career advisor he talked to one of the few times he’s been there in the past.

“She helped me from start to finish until I got my job basically, everything from resume tweaking to cover letters and also interview prep questions,” he said. “If I lived close to this campus I would come here all the time for what they offer here.”

In a little more than a year, he will live closer to an ACCelerator, the community college district says. The system doesn’t have plans to open one at the Riverside campus, but the remodeled Rio Grande campus downtown will have one. 

The Round Rock campus will also open an ACCelerator this summer, expanding the reach of the services from one location in central Austin to four spread out over central Texas.

They’re doing it because they see a need. Last year alone the Highland ACCelerator served more than 9,500 students on a campus that only sees 6,500 regular students taking classes at that campus. 

“As a matter of fact, 1,000 of them were coming from St. Ed’s, the University of Texas, all over the place to use this facility,” Stevens said. And the district is seeing the results. Stevens said the college system’s persistence rate — the likelihood that a student will continue his or her education after the first year — increases by 6 points when students use the space one time.

ACC is betting they’ll see even more success by making the spaces more accessible to more students.

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