Category Archives: DVP-Praxis

Personalized, data-informed ‘Success Coaching’ improves community college students’ academic progress

Colleges and universities across the country are increasingly implementing technology-mediated advising or coaching in an effort to more effectively support students’ academic and non-academic needs. By providing services that are personalized, proactive, and informed by real-time data on students’ academic and non-academic progress and challenges, success coaching has the potential to help students stay on path and improve postsecondary attainment rates.

Less than 40 percent of community college students earn a postsecondary credential of any kind within six years. Although barriers to completion are often academic in nature, many community college students—a diverse population of learners including recent high school graduates, returning adult students, and incumbent workers looking to upgrade skills—face challenges not directly related to academics, including balancing study with work, childcare, and other life responsibilities; financial pressures; personal health needs; and uncertainty about career goals, how college courses connect with job opportunities, and how to prepare and search for employment.

We are currently working with a consortium of 10 North Carolina community colleges that are using data-informed Success Coaching to proactively address students’ academic and personal needs. Our evaluation is examining the impact of this approach on students’ retention and completion outcomes. The initiative—called Carolina Works and led by Central Carolina Community College—is funded by a First in the World validation grant by the U.S. Department of Education, which seeks to test interventions for student success that are supported by previous evidence. The impact study follows an experimental design in which the outcomes of students randomly assigned to receive Success Coaching services are compared to outcomes of students not assigned a coach.

Although the study is still underway, preliminary results – summarized in our March 2019 Carolina Works Evaluation Brief—suggest that success coaching has a positive impact on students’ academic outcomes. Specifically, results from the earliest cohort of students suggest that success coaching improves students’ longer-term retention rates by an average of three percentage points. Preliminary analyses also suggest that specific coaching practices may be particularly effective in improving student outcomes. For example, early retention outcomes were higher for students in the subset of colleges in which Success Coaches are spending a greater amount of time engaging with students outside of their offices.

DVP-PRAXIS is documenting the operationalization of the Success Coaching model across the 10 North Carolina institutions to better understand best practices that may improve success rates for more students. Final results – which will include credential completion in addition to retention outcomes—will be available in Fall 2020.

Jessa Lewis Valentine

Addressing transportation barriers for low-income students and working adults is needed to improve college access and success

Last year, the Kresge Foundation brought together a small group of thought leaders, transit officials, and higher education leaders working on transportation and college access and success. These “pace setters” identified key transportation barriers as well as promising solutions that focused on the role of mass transit systems in helping students get to college from home and work – a critical issue for low-income students and working adults attending public 2-year and 4-year institutions. Recent data from the College Board underscores the significant costs of transportation for an average commuter student, which accounts for 18% of their total living expenses.

We produced a topical brief, Overcoming Transportation Barriers to Improve Postsecondary Success, that examines the nexus between transportation and higher education based on a review of research literature and publicly available reports, interviews from a convenience sample of professionals working on these issues, and ideas curated from a Roundtable hosted by the Kresge Foundation. The brief provides three key takeaways:

  1.  1. Colleges and Universities have been providing transportation solutions for students for at least two decades, including discounted or free transit passes, shuttle or vanpool programs, and more recently, partnerships with rideshare companies.
  2. 2. Although transportation barriers are widely believed to affect college access and success, there is very little evidence documenting the relationship between student retention and completion in college with the availability and utilization of transportation programs.
  3. 3. Transportation solutions must account for the capacity of public mass transit systems – namely the extent to which they are robust and far-reaching in a community.

Transportation barriers include cost and affordability; route frequencies and schedules; housing and work proximity; and, reliability and quality. To address these barriers, colleges and mass transit systems need to collaborate and cost-share in ways that benefit students. The good news is that such collaboration can yield increased ridership for public transportation and increased retention for colleges and universities, which can yield increased revenues for both.

There appears to be a preponderance of programmatic solutions to meet the transportation needs of low-income students and working adults – including the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority’s U-Pass program with 15 college and university partners; and the City Colleges of Chicago’s Ventra U-Pass program for full-time students. These programs have strong ridership, and there are anecdotal stories of how they benefit students; yet before policy solutions and private investments can be scaled, there is a need to build the evidence-base by documenting the impact of transportation solutions – especially discounted or free transit passes for student – on college retention and completion.

We stand ready to partner with LA Metro and City Colleges of Chicago – and with the Kresge Foundation – to help demonstrate the viability of these transit pass programs by conducting quasi-experimental and experimental studies of their impact. By focusing a demonstration and evaluation on public 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities in large urban environments, we can also shed light on how equity in college access and success can be further supported and achieved.

Derek V. Price

Pathways Linking Non-Degree and Credit Programs Can Help Students Meet Academic and Career Goals

The burden for making sure college-level learning counts for college credit should not be on the community college student. Instead, linking non-degree and credit programs in which college-level learning occurs should be part of the intentional design of guided and career pathways that colleges develop. Aligning non-credit and credit programming is an essential aspect for a student-centered college, and some student-centered community colleges are exhibiting this principle by rethinking how they prepare students for success in the labor market, and by connecting workforce development and credit-based education and training programs.

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The opportunity for colleges to meet students’ academic and career goals and improve their academic and job outcomes is huge. Millions of community college students are currently enrolled in non-degree programs, according to the American Association of Community College’s Fast Facts from 2017. According to the US Department of Education in their 2016 Adult Education and Training Survey, 27% of adults have a non-degree postsecondary certificate, a certification, or a license.

We recently worked with seven community colleges that formed the Northeast Resiliency Consortium (NRC). Led by Passaic County Community College, and including Atlantic Cape Community College, Bunker Hill Community College, Capital Community College, Housatonic Community College, Kingsborough Community College, and LaGuardia Community College, the consortium was awarded a U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Career Training Grant. Achieving the Dream served as the convening and technical assistance partner for the colleges. DVP-Praxis and Equal Measure served as the third-party evaluator for the consortium.

The evaluation of these colleges’ work to link non-credit and credit-based programs shows promising results for students’ college and job success. A higher percentage of students enrolled on non-degree to credit pathways banked or earned college credits, transitioned to credit-based programs, and gained and were retained in employment than a matched comparison group who were not enrolled in programs that had a non-degree to credit link. To learn more about how colleges are doing this important work, read the issue brief, “Creating Opportunity for All: Building Pathways from Continuing Education to Credit Programs.”

Students deserve access to clear, coherent pathways in their colleges, whether they enroll in non-credit short-term education and training programs that yield non-degree certifications or pursue credentials and degrees through credit-based programs. We believe that when colleges connect non-degree and credit-based programs, these pathways can smooth the way for students to work toward a college degree even if they begin their studies in a non-degree program.

To achieve this seamless pathway for students requires a whole college solution, with clearly defined and widely recognized mechanisms for assessing the competencies and skills imparted in non-degree programs, and subsequently mapping these competencies to credit courses and programs at the college. These formal mechanisms should be codified in institutional policy, and communicated on college websites, through advising sessions, and via instructors in both non-credit and credit courses. These mechanisms should become part of the standard practices at colleges so more students can meet their academic and career goals no matter where they begin their postsecondary education and training.

Derek V. Price


Providing support services for students improve educational and employment outcomes – a benefit for students, colleges, and employers.

Last month marked the end of four rounds of federal investments in community and technical colleges through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant program. In this final round, we evaluated Wisconsin’s Advancing Careers and Training for Healthcare (ACT) consortium grant, a statewide project with participation from all colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) to develop, improve, and expand education and training pathways for healthcare related occupations.

As part of the third-party evaluation, we conducted an impact study focused on grant participants enrolled in healthcare programs of study who received grant-funded support services, including academic and non-academic supports provided inside and outside the classroom. The Executive Summary of our evaluation can be found here; we also invite you to download the full report.

The delivery of support services was the most common strategy implemented across the consortium to improve participant outcomes. Approximately 70% of ACT for Healthcare participants in grant-funded programs, representing 2,297 students, received at least one grant-funded support service. Academic supports were more widespread across the consortium than non-academic supports, reaching a larger number of students. Academic supports delivered in class reached the largest number of participants (1,173 students) while out-of-class academic supports was the second largest support service type, reaching 785 participants. Grant-funded non-academic supports also reached a substantial number of participants; for example, non-academic supports delivered within classrooms reached 715 participants. It is important to note that many colleges implemented multiple support types; for example, a combination of academic and non-academic supports, or a combination of supports delivered both in-class and out-of-class. Of the nearly 2,300 participants receiving support services, one-third received more than one support service type.

A second reason for focusing the impact study on these participants is the growing national attention to the importance of support services for adult learners. The provision of academic and non-academic supports is an increasingly popular strategy pursued by community and technical colleges nationwide to boost success and completion rates for their students. According to recent estimates, fewer than 40% of community college students go on to earn a postsecondary credential of any kind within six years. Barriers to completion are often academic in nature, as an increasing proportion of students arrive to college academically unprepared. However, many community and technical college students also face challenges not directly related to academics, including balancing study with work, childcare, and other life responsibilities; financial pressures; personal health needs; and uncertainty regarding career goals, how college courses connect with job opportunities, and how to prepare and search for employment. The prominence of this issue is evidenced by the growing interest in #RealCollege – a national movement of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers catalyzed by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University.

The evaluation results are quite strong:

74% of treatment students earned a postsecondary credential, versus 51% for a matched comparison group.
Treatment students were eight percentage points more likely to be retained into the next semester, and seven percentage points more likely to be retained one year later, compared to a matched comparison group.
45% of treatment students who were unemployed at the start of their program had gained employment one quarter after program exit, compared to 37% for a matched comparison group of non-incumbent workers.
Treatment students who were incumbent workers were six percentage points more likely to experience quarterly earnings gains following program exit, compared to a matched comparison group of incumbent workers.

In short, providing support services for healthcare students generates benefits for students, colleges, and employers—suggesting that this approach to enhanced education and training should be an essential aspect of institutional reform efforts with potential replicability to sectors beyond healthcare.

By investing in academic and non-academic support services, colleges can increase the number of students with the skills needed to enter the labor market prepared for employment and upward mobility; while enhancing their revenue through improved institutional retention and completion rates. Moreover, these supports help colleges better serve adult students who need additional skills and re-training, and who reflect an increasingly diverse pool of potential students and workers.

Derek V. Price

An essential practice: providing integrated academic, personal, and career support services to help more low-income students at community colleges succeed.

On February 14, we released our final implementation evaluation report on the Working Students Success Network (WSSN). This , Meeting basic needs and improving financial stability for community college students: Lessons from the Working Students Success Network implementation evaluation examines the implementation efforts of colleges involved in the WSSN – a three-year initiative at 19 colleges in four states aimed at addressing the challenges low-income community colleges face both on and off campus. One of the most important conclusions from our evaluation is that a wide array of academic, personal, and career support services need to be fully integrated into the overall culture and operations of the institution and not be limited to a distinct program.

The WSSN initiative—managed by the college reform organization Achieving the Dream—offers a systematic and integrated approach to helping low-income students succeed in college. It applies a fresh, holistic framework to encouraging student success by addressing nonacademic matters, such as students’ family and work responsibilities, financial needs beyond tuition, and the financial knowledge they need to sustain the other aspects of their lives as key components of academic success.
In our report, we note that that in the initial three years, participating institutions have made particular strides in:

  • Expanding services in areas where they had previously offered limited support, including income and work supports, financial literacy, and asset building;
  • Targeting more intensive and customized support to the students with the greatest need, including adults in basic education programs, students on public assistance, those in workforce education or training programs, and those seeking GEDs to transition into college;
  • Engaging outside partners—community-based organizations, businesses, and public human services agencies; and
  • Integrating multiple services to meet students’ basic needs and improve their financial security, including public benefits information, financial literacy, and career and employment services.

Our report also identifies key strategies undertaken by WSSN colleges, including two promising approaches for colleges that want to provide comprehensive and integrated services that address a broad spectrum of students’ basic needs and can improve their financial stability:

  • One-on-one, personalized assistance (e.g., coaching) with multiple areas and issues related to students’ basic needs and financial stability. High-touch, personalized coaching and the intensive relationships between coaches and students were widely seen by faculty, staff, and administrators as a “game changer” for addressing the complex circumstances facing students. This was especially important for students who had little or no prior experience or familiarity with postsecondary education.
  • A centralized location where students’ basic needs and financial insecurities can be addressed. A centralized one-stop shop or “hub” to provide services in a centralized location helps colleges integrate and bundle services for students. Typically, the services are provided by college staff and partners and create a highly visible symbol of how the college is daily addressing the struggles faced by low-income students.

Finally, the report identifies key factors that enabled the highest performing institutions to implement the WSSN initiative with rigor and embed it in their daily work. The mature institutions:

  • Demonstrated committed leadership and shared responsibilities across the institution;
  • Broke down silos between student service programs and key departments of the university;
  • Developed widespread “buy-in” to an integrated model of service delivery and deeper understanding of the conditions of poverty that affect their students. They extended the buy-in by elevating key services like food banks as symbolic reminders of the institution’s commitment to its students’ financial stability; and
  • Broadened engagement with and collaboration among external partners.

The completion agenda is a critical national imperative, and community colleges are core partners in this effort. Two-thirds of the nation’s 6.9 million students who attend community colleges are low-income students from families earning less than $50,000. More than one-third live below the poverty line. To get by, most community college students work either full or part time, and many are raising children, supporting parents, or contributing to family expenses. Over one-third are the first in their families to go to college and over half are people of color.

As we indicate in our report, “providing support services to address the daily struggles low-income students face to pay for food, housing, child care, health care, and transportation along with college tuition and fees should be an essential strategy of the college completion agenda.”

Derek V. Price



WIOA creates new opportunities for career pathways and for program alignment among federal workforce training programs. Here are ten things community and technical colleges need to know.

Guest Blog by Tim Harmon, Workforce Enterprise Services, Inc.

April 2016

President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law on July 22, 2014. WIOA replaces the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, and makes some important changes to the public workforce system, many of which have important implications for community and technical colleges. Here are ten of the most important things that community and technical colleges should know about WIOA:


  1. 1. WIOA increases the emphasis on alignment of programs and services across several federal workforce and education funding streams. This is especially true of the four “core” programs (Title I career and training services, Title II Adult Education and Family Literacy services, Title III Wagner-Peyser Employment Services, and Title IV Rehabilitation Services). WIOA also expands the scope of required partnerships, including Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) employment and training programs.


  1. 2. WIOA implements common performance indicators across the four core programs. There are six key indicators of performance:
  • The percentage of program participants who are in unsubsidized employment during the second quarter after exit from the program (for Title I youth programs, this includes those in education or training services).
  • The percentage of program participants who are in unsubsidized employment during the fourth quarter after exit from the program (also including education and training for Title I youth).
  • The median earnings of program participants who are in unsubsidized employment during the second quarter after exit from the program.
  • A new measure of the attainment of a “recognized postsecondary credential,” or a secondary school diploma or its equivalent, for those employed or in a postsecondary program within one year of exiting WIOA.
  • A new measure of “measureable skill gains” for participants who during a program year, are in an education or training program that leads to a postsecondary credential or employment and who are achieving measureable skill gains to such a credential or employment.
  • A new indicator of the effectiveness of the programs in serving employers (this is to be defined later).

States have to agree with the Secretaries of Labor and Education on outcome targets for each of these measures for each of the programs. States have to negotiate with local areas to set goals for the Title I measures, and these targets must take into account economic and demographic factors using a statistical adjustment model. This is good news for local areas, but WIOA seems poised to continue WIA’s emphasis on ambitious performance targets and tough accountability responses, especially for the Title I and II programs.

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  1. 3. Eligible training providers must report on their results against the first four WIOA measures for all students in each program, not just those enrolled in WIOA. Under WIA, the performance reporting requirement for all students in the eligible training programs had been waived by USDOL for almost all states. USDOL has said that they will no longer do this, so to provide education and training services to WIOA clients, community and technical colleges must provide employment and earnings outcomes – as well as postsecondary credential attainment outcomes – for all students in programs that also serve WIOA clients. States have until July 1 of this year to put in place their procedures for how training providers can provide the results information as required by WIOA.


  1. 4. WIOA Local Workforce Development Boards (LWDBs) continue to be responsible for local and regional planning, selecting One-Stop Center operators, and selecting training providers to be included in the eligible training provider list, but they have expanded roles in leading the analysis of the local economy and workforce needs, creating sector partnerships and encouraging the development of career pathways. A representative of postsecondary education must be on the local board – and community and technical colleges are the obvious partner in most local areas.


  1. 5. Core partners (and any other mandated partners as determined by the states) must cooperate in the provision of services through the local One-Stop delivery system. This means community and technical colleges must contribute a portion of funds or in-kind services needed to operate the local workforce system, including a negotiated share of the cost of the local One-Stop Career Center infrastructure.


  1. 6. WIOA eliminates the “sequence of services” requirements that existed under WIA. WIA imposed a screen on the eligibility of participants for enrollment in training, in that participants needed to receive initial core or intensive services first, and then could go on to training if they were unable to obtain employment. This discouraged many participants from accessing needed training services, and along with other features of WIA, resulted in a shift away from training for many local workforce programs. Under WIOA, these provisions have been removed, and therefore participants can go directly into postsecondary education and training without having to receive career services.


  1. 7. WIOA contains stronger provisions for targeting low-income persons and those with basic skills deficiencies, both for youth and adults. WIOA clarifies that the existing Priority of Service requirement in the Title I adult program applies regardless of how much or how little state or local funding is available; it is not contingent upon funds being “limited,” as was the requirement under WIA. WIOA also requires that at least 75 percent of available statewide funds and 75 percent of funds available to local areas be spent on workforce investment services for out-of-school youth, which is a substantial increase from the 30 percent required by WIA. WIOA also changes the out-of-school youth eligibility age to 16 to 24 years of age (it had been 16 to 21 years of age).


  1. 8. Local areas have broadened authority to use contracts for training services. WIOA continues the existing model of paying for training through Individual Training Accounts (ITAs), and ITAs can be combined with training contracts. However, other vehicles for training are also emphasized and expanded, including On-the-Job Training (OJT), pay-for-performance contracts, and incumbent worker training. These changes are meant to give local boards much more flexibility in crafting an effective response to the needs of employers and job seekers.


  1. 9. Local areas must give priority consideration to programs that lead to recognized postsecondary credentials that are aligned with demand occupations and industry sectors in the local area. WIOA places a strong emphasis on the analysis of occupational supply and demand and the development of sector partnerships. These are meant to ensure that the training investments are targeted to programs that have a high likelihood of leading to credentials with value in the labor market, and that respond directly to the needs of local industry. For the first time, the receipt of a postsecondary credential is a required performance outcome indicator for all WIOA clients.


  1. 10. WIOA encourages implementation of career pathways. WIOA defines career pathways, and makes career pathway strategies a function of state and local boards and a permissible activity throughout the Act. Under WIOA, the term ‘‘career pathway’’ means a combination of rigorous and high quality education, training, and other services that— (A) aligns with the skill needs of industries in the economy of the State or regional economy involved; (B) prepares an individual to be successful in any of a full range of secondary or postsecondary education options, including registered apprenticeships; (C) includes counseling to support an individual in achieving the individual’s education and career goals; (D) includes, as appropriate, education offered concurrently with and in the same context as workforce preparation activities and training for a specific occupation or occupational cluster; (E) organizes education, training, and other services to meet the particular needs of an individual in a manner that accelerates the educational and career advancement of the individual to the extent practicable; (F) enables an individual to obtain a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent, and at least 1 recognized postsecondary credential; and (G) helps an individual enter or advance within a specific occupation or occupational cluster.

These ten features of WIOA taken together suggest a system that should be much more focused on training for credentials, sector-based career pathways; stronger targeting of lower income students and those with skill gaps; better collaboration among partners; greater flexibility in delivery options; and, broadened accountability. Community and technical colleges have a critical role to play in helping to build a local workforce system that delivers on these promising features.

 For more detail on WIOA, please see:

 Overview for Community Colleges

CLASP Overview of Key Provisions of WIOA

National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) Overview of WIOA

CLASP Toolkit for Funding Career Pathways



Aligning education and training systems to support adult learners

For the past eight years, I have partnered with Brandon Roberts + Associates to evaluate the Joyce Foundation’s Shifting Gears initiative. In September 2015, our final evaluation report was released documenting the progress Midwest states have made in aligning their adult education, community and technical college, and workforce development systems to better support adult learners. In this report, both Minnesota and Wisconsin warrant particular attention, because they have expanded adult education bridges to virtually all public two-year community and technical colleges; and also enacted state policies to provide several million dollars annually to expand and sustain this innovative programming for adult learners.

I expect that much attention will be made about the growth of adult education bridge programs in the Shifting Gears states – they more than doubled from 79 to 196 between 2011 and 2014. Attention will also be paid to the more than 10,000 adult learners who participated in these programs – and that this impressive number barely scratches the surface of the need in these states. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin conducted their own research about the effectiveness of these programs, and found that adult education bridge participants both earned more postsecondary credits and more postsecondary credentials than a comparison group. I imagine attention will be focused on these positive outcomes as well.

Yet, I think there is a more important story from Shifting Gears that policy makers, researchers, advocates, and philanthropic and corporate funders should pay attention to: the lessons we gleaned around what it takes to address systems change within and across state agencies. Aligning adult education, postsecondary and workforce development systems to better serve adult learners is an acutely needed system change – and one that many if not all practitioners, policymakers, funders and advocates can agree. Making progress towards such systems change is immensely challenging, because people generally do not know how to design, structure, and implement systems change efforts. I believe our evaluation of Shifting Gears raises some key lessons that should be understood if systems change is to be advanced in Midwest states as well as nationally.

First and foremost, systems change is slow and incremental, in part because these systems have deeply engrained ways of operating, with rules and policies that make innovation difficult. But change of this magnitude is also slow because of the way leaders and staff in these systems tends to operationalize external grants as temporary, confined, siloed, and marginal. To be fair, external grants really are a small speck relative to the operating budgets of state systems so treating grants accordingly is reasonable. Changing this mindset towards external grants from one of a short-lived investment to that of a strategic lever to alter the way these systems operate should be articulated up front if systems change is the objective. And, critically, the philanthropic community needs to stay invested over a longer duration to support these efforts – 10 years in my view.

Second, achieving systems change requires strategic planning, intentionality, and resources – including the support of executive-level leaders. Systems change is less likely, and certainly a much slower process, if planning is opportunistic and activities are limited to those the grant itself can support. So, if systems change is the objective, system leaders need to develop and execute a strategic implementation plan; at least one staff person will need to be dedicated exclusively to this effort with a clear understanding that reforming and/or aligning systems is the goal; and staff and supervisors will need external advising and support to influence both the pace of systems change and progress towards the desired outcomes. There are many capable professionals working in our education and training systems, but reforming the agencies and institutions in which they work is not part of their everyday responsibilities.

Third, efforts to foster transformative change in the practices of institutions and systems require significant policy change and investment or reallocation of state resources. Policy change is a necessary condition for systems change, and is not limited to high profile, legislative matters. In actuality, the policy changes most critical to support systems change are often administrative, regulatory, and reporting policies that can be changed by system leaders. A key aspect of policy change should emphasize the reallocation of existing resources so that new, innovative practices replace long-standing and less effective ones. To successfully reallocate existing resources requires the support of local practitioners – and this issue, like systems change itself, must be addressed directly and systematically. Real and sustainable systems change is not possible if led solely from the top. Local stakeholders needed to embrace change and become champions for new ways of delivering education and training. Engaging local leaders through professional development workshops and onsite training, as well as providing access to key materials such as curriculum and lesson plans, appears fundamental to building broad and deep support for systems change.

In short, systems change is slow and incremental, and can take around 10 years to achieve. By staying the course over a decade, funders and reformers can make demonstrable progress towards systems change; and in doing so can foster culture change in our education and training systems so that innovative and change becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Visit the Joyce Foundation site.

See final report on Joyce Foundation Shifting Gears.

Derek V. Price

Colleges and Universities should use institutional grants for need-based financial aid

At a recent meeting of the Student Financial Aid Research Network (SFARN), researchers indicated that the number of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants increased to 41% in 2011-12, up from 27% four years earlier. Think about this for a minute – one in five college students are low-income. Wow! In some ways, this news is good news – more students are getting federal financial aid to pay for college. But this news also underscores a fundamental problem, which is that college prices are going up so fast that more and more students cannot afford college without considerable financial assistance.

My friend and colleague, Sara Goldrick-Rab has openly advocated for free community college as a policy solution. Her proposal is generous – not only paying for tuition and fees, but also covering books, transportation, meals and living expenses. A presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, and a U.S. Senator, Elizabeth Warren, have endorsed free community colleges, as has President Obama. And just this month, Hillary Clinton revealed a proposal that could make college debt-free for many students. Many other political leaders and advocates have endorsed a less ambitious, but also progressive, approach to cover tuition and fees for community college students – most often by promoting the Tennessee Promise as a policy solution. However, I am unaware of any Republican presidential candidates who support using federal policies to encourage or incent states and colleges to make college debt-free or to make the first two years of college free.

I wholeheartedly support these efforts to provide two years of free college for all students; however, the pragmatist in me wants to hedge bets and promote some incremental changes to provide more grant aid to low- and middle-income students.

According to the College Board, higher education institutions provided almost $35 billion in institutional grant aid to students in 2012-13. This figure represents 19 percent of the $185 billion in grant and loan financial aid available to undergraduates, and is more than the amount awarded by the federal Pell Grant program. Institutional grant aid is particularly important to students at private, nonprofit four-year colleges and universities, making up two-thirds of all student aid in this sector; however, institutional aid also represents one-fourth of all aid to students at public four-year colleges and universities.

As part of a recent project with the Association of Governing Boards and the National Association of College and University Business Officers, my colleague Don Hossler of Indiana University and I were struck by the growth of institutional grant aid, up 92 percent over the past decade. Yet, as has been documented elsewhere, institutional grant aid is not always used to support low- and middle-income students pay for college – that is, unless those students demonstrate academic superiority based on high school grades or standardized tests. This project, Looking Under the Hood, created a national dataset for benchmarking institutional grant aid. My hope is that colleges and universities will use this online tool to examine their institutional aid policies, and shift more resources to need-based financial aid.

Federal and state policies could incentivize colleges and universities to move in this direction. For example, the U.S. Department of Education could require colleges and universities to match all federal Pell Grants by 25% either through institutional scholarships or via tuition discounting. Similarly, states with need-based grant programs could also require a 25% match from colleges and universities for state financial aid. Both of these policy choices will cost colleges and universities, at a minimum because institutions would need to redirect institutional grant aid they currently award based on merit only to also include a need-based component. Progressive states could also allow colleges and universities to count the 25% match through the provision of dedicated student support services for all need-based federal and state grant aid recipients. These types of policy incentives push colleges and universities to pay attention to affordability for students. This policy stick of requiring institutional aid matches could be softened by performance-based funding policies, if such policies rewarded colleges who increased student retention and completion for need-based grant recipients.

College enrollments are becoming increasingly diverse – with more low-income and first-generation students in the pipeline. These students need affordable options. There are many policy solutions that can drive colleges and universities to prioritize affordability – including increased state and federal investments that could make the first two years of college free. An interim approach is for colleges and universities to provide more institutional grant dollars for need-based financial aid to support low- and middle-income students – many of whom are academically talented.

Derek V. Price

Technology can help, but colleges need professionals

I am puzzled when reformers talk about technology as THE answer to improving student success. The assumption for almost all technology solutions is that they are cost-effective, in large part because they can do certain functions for more students than people can do. Yes, that’s right, just as robots have replaced workers in manufacturing plants, some reformers seem to believe that computer terminals and the software programs they run are apparently more cost effective than the professionals they replace. Leave aside for the moment that technology is expensive, and it has to be replaced or upgraded every few years. (IPhone 6 anyone?) And we should also leave aside that professionals are needed to keep technology operating. (Tech support?) The reality is that for many students – and I would argue perhaps the majority – technology alone is not the solution.

Yes, colleges should communicate with students via texting and social media rather than email or phone calls – and definitely not via snail mail. But college students, especially low-income, first-generation students, need – even deserve – more. In my view, even if colleges can use technology to provide 24/7 access to course curriculum, or send automated text messages to students to remind them of class or to see a counselor, the majority of students enrolling in college need some human interaction in order to be successful. Don’t misunderstand my point. I think technology can be a wonderful aid to colleges and for students, but without the personal contact of faculty, support services staff, program administrators, and fellow students – technology is no solution at all.

Let’s take the latest iterations of the technological solution: predictive analytics and integrated planning and advising services (IPAS). Advocates for these technologies argue that by leveraging “Big Data,” colleges can more effectively target support services to students, customizing outreach strategies and interventions; or can offer students, advisors and faculty shared information to stay on track to completion. Most of the time, when I hear stakeholders talk about these technology solutions, the conversation rarely deviates from the technology itself, or the algorithms the software uses, or the various data systems that are integrated. But if we look a little closer, the technology by itself is NOT the solution – these technologies are tools that people need to use.

We need to have a serious conversation about how professionals at colleges and universities serve the students at their institutions. If predictive analytics can inform faculty that a student is struggling, then we need to talk about what faculty will do with that information. If IPAS helps an advisor see that a student is drifting away from their declared program of study, then we need to talk about what the advisor will do with that information. If an automated text message is sent to a student, because they are not attending class or are at risk of keeping their financial aid due to poor performance, then we need to talk about who at the college is going to act on this information.

So the next time you hear about how technology is going to improve student success, make sure to ask who is responsible for acting on the information this technology is providing. Better yet, interject into the conversation that technology is only as good or effective as the people who use it – technology can help, but colleges need professionals to provide supports to students, faculty to engage students in active and collaborative learning, and administrative policies and procedures that dissolve barriers rather than exacerbate them. Oh, and don’t forget that technology also need techies to keep it running.

Derek V. Price

Colleges and universities need to focus on implementation and scale

By my account, we’re entering the second decade of the completion agenda. While the philanthropic community may have instigated this reform effort, state and federal policymakers have fueled its longevity. And of course, reform-minded institutional leaders – led by public community and technical colleges – have been at the forefront of experimentation and change to improve college completion rates.

Given the increased interest in evidence-based decision-making and public accountability, much of the prior decade’s focus on college completion has been around identifying effective practices that colleges should implement and scale. A vocal chorus of researchers and policy think tanks has argued that rigorous evidence, especially experimental studies, should be the benchmark for deciding if a practice is effective or not. In a handful of cases, such studies have provided causal evidence of impact – most recently an MDRC study of the Accelerated Study in Associates Program (ASAP) in the CUNY system.

Although most researchers and practitioners agree that a “silver bullet” will not be found – the overarching focus on experimental studies unfortunately implies the opposite. I am not suggesting that we should stop pursuing causal evidence of effective practices; but I do believe that improving students’ progress towards college completions could benefit from a more intentional and systematic focus on implementation and scale.

Colleges and universities should be expanding a slew of innovative practices they already provide on their campuses – but that few students are benefiting. As we document in our recent report – Case-Informed Lessons for Scaling Innovation at Community and Technical Colleges – the challenge facing institutions to expand the number and proportion of students earning credentials does not appear to be a lack of knowledge about effective postsecondary practices. [I’ll leave the arguments about various standards of evidence for another blog]. Rather, college and university leaders need to better understand how to implement and scale innovative practices if we are to significantly raise completion rates.

Implementation and scale is the responsibility of the entire institution. It is a challenge for both academic affairs and student affairs. It is also a challenge for stakeholders providing basic operational functions in support of an institution’s mission and values. Scale requires leaders throughout the institution – at many levels of hierarchy and responsibility, and across divisions and departments – to address deeper, systemic policies and procedures that touch all aspects of organizational behavior.

While scale should be measured numerically in terms of the numbers of students benefiting from effective practices, achieving scale requires attention to a process of change that alters the beliefs and norms of social interactions among college stakeholders. Building on the important work of scholars like Cynthia Coburn and Adrianna Kezar, we’ve identified five transformative ingredients that – if intentionally addressed – can create the conditions needed for scale to occur.

1. Alignment with institutional planning and accountability processes through leadership and commitment across divisions and departments that are broadly inclusive of administrators, faculty, and staff.

2. Sufficient human and financial resources to generate buy-in and support from a broad base of stakeholders, and require financial and administrative prioritization.

3. Increased institutional research capacity, and improved systems to collect, analyze, and discuss data, to provide better evidence for continuous improvement and to monitor and refine implementation.

4. Transparent and supportive policies and practices that involves inclusive engagement of stakeholders to design and vet necessary policy and practice changes, and shared responsibility for action within their respective divisional and departmental lines of authority.

5. Access to networks of institutions and other stakeholder organizations also supporting systems and culture to create momentum and “peer-pressure” to sustain commitment to institutional transformation.

There is not single pathway to achieve scale. The fundamental lesson for colleges and universities, while addressing these five transformative ingredients, is to account for the their unique institutional culture, existing tensions, preferred ways of working, as well as key supporters and detractors on campus – and be responsive to this context.

Derek V. Price