Texas Woman’s University and Allan Hancock College Receive ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation
April 14, 2023

ACE is proud to announce that Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and Allan Hancock College (AHC) in California are the recipients of the 2023 ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation.

The award was created to recognize institutions that have responded to higher education challenges in innovative and creative ways and achieved dramatic changes in a relatively brief period. It was presented along with a $10,000 prize today at ACE2023, ACE’s Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

“I am thrilled to be able to present this award to two exceptional institutions that have not just survived but thrived during what could have been a challenging period for their institutions and their students,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “Allan Hancock College and Texas Woman’s University serve as excellent examples of the efforts our institutions are undertaking to increase access to higher education and meet the needs of an ever-more diverse student body.”

Left to right: Debra Frey, Fidelity Investments; Kevin G. Walthers, Allan Hancock College president; Carine M. Feyten, Texas Woman's University chancellor and president; and ACE President Ted Mitchell.

“Fidelity is proud to team with ACE to recognize Allan Hancock College and TWU as institutions driving innovation and creativity in the higher education community,” said Sangeeta Moorjani, executive vice president of Fidelity Investments. “We applaud these institutions for the forward-thinking solutions they have implemented to both make education accessible to a wider population, as well as improve outcomes for their students.”

ACE invited nominations and applications for the award from any U.S. college or university eligible for ACE membership. Applications were divided into two categories: the first for institutions with student populations of 12,001 and more (TWU), and the second for institutions with student populations of up to 12,000 (AHC).

Five years ago, Texas Woman’s University implemented an ambitious strategic plan, including 18 university-level initiatives. Through these initiatives, leaders invested more than $460 million in new cutting-edge facilities that significantly elevated the university’s living and learning ecosystem, including a scientific research commons, residential buildings, and a student union. They honed academic offerings, sunsetting some programs while creating new graduate-level opportunities in STEM-related fields such as biotechnology and informatics. The plan guided faculty to develop new modalities and pedagogies that better serve a student body comprising 90 percent women, including seven-week terms devised to speed up time to degree. The initiatives on health and well-being, competitive sports—including women’s wrestling, artistic swimming, and STUNT—childcare solutions, and belonging each boast a set of achievements, one being the establishment of a council charged with a novel, grassroots approach to driving inclusive excellence.

The women’s leadership initiative pushed forward a new institute that includes statewide centers for women entrepreneurs and women in politics and public policy. It has garnered state funding at $17 million per biennium, on top of private investments. The institute’s leadership hall was built to inspire young women and includes interactive exhibits with artifacts from the likes of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the complete archives of prominent women such as Sarah Weddington and Eddie Bernice Johnson, pioneers who have helped shape statewide and national public policy.

Through it all, enrollment continued to grow, not only bucking predictions but also building a student community that better reflects the state’s racial and ethnic demographics. Last fall’s incoming class of first-time college students was 43 percent Hispanic, 22 percent Black, 22 percent White, and 9 percent Asian—a dramatic shift when compared to the total student body, which is 33 percent Hispanic, 19 percent Black, 35 percent White, and 10 percent Asian. Most importantly, for three years in a row, the university has closed one- and two-year persistence gaps between different racial and ethnic groups.

During its previous legislative session, Texas established the Texas Woman’s University System, transforming Texas Woman’s—with its 16,000 students, 3,000 employees, and three campuses in Denton, Dallas, and Houston—into the first university system in the nation with a woman-focused mission.

“When I look back and connect the dots, I would say our transformation spun out of a singular focus on our mission,” said Texas Woman’s Chancellor and President Carine M. Feyten. “I have had the pleasure to witness incredible tangible and intangible growth, but most compellingly, I hear from our students, more than half first-gen, about how their Texas Woman’s experience is giving them the confidence and tools to leverage their lived experience and natural intelligence in ways that will positively impact the world—or as we like to say: educate a woman, empower the world, todo al mundo.”

At Allan Hancock College, hundreds of students earn more than enough credits to complete at least one degree or certificate each year. Yet, these same students often do not know or understand that they have enough units to graduate. That’s why, through an innovative cross-departmental initiative, the Credit Where Credit’s Due program came to light.

AHC developed an algorithm to leverage data already collected in the college’s operational software, Banner and Degree Works, to identify students who are near degree completion—or in some cases have already completed their degrees—and automatically award them degrees and certificates without students needing to initiate an application for graduation.

This program grew out of the problem AHC leaders were seeing at the Hispanic-Serving Institution—that students, many of them first-generation, were often unaware they had completed the requirements for a credential, thereby slowing their progress toward further education or workforce entry.

The first year AHC piloted the program, the results were almost immediate, with 1,144 students receiving a total of 2,849 degrees and/or certificates through the automated program. On average, these students received 2.4 degrees. Total degree earners increased 22 percent in the first year, and despite enrollment drops during the pandemic, the number of degree earners increased by 4.4 percent in 2020-21.

The impact of the program on student equity is significant. Over the first two years of the program, 64 percent of all auto-awarded degrees or certificates went to students from Hispanic, African American, and other traditionally underrepresented ethnic groups, compared to 32 percent awarded to White students.

“The Credit Where Credit’s Due program reminds us that relatively simple shifts in procedures can eradicate barriers with significant, life-changing outcomes for students,” said Allan Hancock College President Kevin G. Walthers. “This is one example of how Allan Hancock College is changing the odds for students in Northern Santa Barbara County, California.”

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