In 2013, the data revolution was going full steam ahead in K-12 education, but it was going in the wrong direction. Everything was focused on using data for evaluative purposes and placing blame instead of using data as a resource to help drive improvement. The collective impact movement, when implemented with rigor and discipline in a community, has helped to slowly but surely shift the mindset towards that of improvement and I hope that continues. There are outstanding examples that can be shared of data being used by Cradle to Career Network members to lift up and build on what works.
But what about the other two ends of the cradle-to-career continuum: early childhood and higher education? One could argue that the federal intervention in early 2015 requiring all Head Start providers to reapply helped to reinforce the value of using data to improve quality. There was certainly a focus on making sure the agencies delivering services were having impact. Now there is an expectation that data is being used on an ongoing basis to improve.
On the other end of the continuum, higher education, the driver for using data for improvement is not as clear. One could argue that the talk nationally about outcomes-based funding has had some effect. But I would venture to say that the Lumina Foundation’s Community Partnerships for Attainment (CPA) initiative has had an equivalent if not greater impact.
Starting in 2013, the Foundation identified 75 communities over three years and challenged partners to work together in a focused way to:
- Increase transparency and the pace of change around college enrollment, retention and (most importantly) attainment
- Take the time and energy to understand what is having impact and how to improve
The Lumina Foundation was not prescriptive in how to make these changes happen, but they worked to constantly identify emerging best practices they could lift up to expedite the progress of communities committed to increasing higher education attainment across the country. In so doing, Lumina Foundation created a demand for and respect of the value of data to inform action than we had ever seen before nationally.
One recent moment in this initiative reinforced this point perfectly. At the final gathering of the CPA communities in February 2016, there was a seminal moment and, strangely enough, it was a tale of data-driven practice. Georgia State University shared the outstanding results they have realized regarding their progress helping non-traditional and first-generation college students complete their desired degree. The headline is indeed compelling. But those in the room have heard success stories before. What was interesting was how the conversation was less about the success and more about how the university utilized data to achieve their results. Georgia State University used data to identify the key barriers and then continued using data — with their most innovative faculty and staff — to identify and constantly improve upon what was working. People rushed to microphones after to ask questions and dozens were left wanting as the time ran out.
I can say with confidence this would not have been the case before CPA started. As communities engaged in this initiative and influenced their peers nationally, there has been growing recognition that higher education can use their inherent data expertise to be transparent about progress and look inward at their performance. The intense focus on enabling creative insights and solutions to emerge over the last three years through the initiative has been a significant accelerant to help make this happen. With this key foundational insight and some emerging exemplars nationally, I have much more confidence we will, as a nation, achieve the bold goal of 60 percent college attainment by 2025.