Although strengthening the college-going culture within your school building is a powerful way to support postsecondary attainment, the old adage “it takes a village” rings true when it comes to ensuring true cultural transformation.
Educators know that the environments, attitudes, and events that students experience outside of school hours don’t disappear when they enter the school building. So, we must expand our efforts to include cross-sector and community partnerships that can help us provide holistic and ongoing support for students and families.
At the Collective Impact stage of building a college-going culture, stakeholders and organizations from across sectors and throughout the community must come together in a formalized way to support students’ educational attainment.
But this level of coordination requires thoughtful planning and strategic implementation. One model for accomplishing that is the Collective Impact Model, which was first outlined in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR). The Collective Impact Model offers a framework for ensuring that organizations seeking to drive positive social change are collaborating rather than competing, and that their efforts are complementary rather than duplicative.
For school communities looking to make a Collective Impact, we recommend starting with the following goals:
- Recruitment: Identifying organizations and individuals who can help impact students’ educational attainment and securing their commitment to collaborate.
- Formalization: Identify and create a formalized structure or organization for your collaborative college attainment efforts.
- Vision Setting: Articulating and gaining consensus on your shared goals and objectives.
- Quick Wins: Identifying short-term goals you can accomplish collaboratively to build momentum, trust, and support.
Goal 1: Recruitment
To help you identify and recruit organizations and individuals who can help make a long-term positive impact on students’ educational attainment, we recommend three strategies: 1) thinking holistically, 2) seeking “changemakers,” and 3) focusing on your “why.”
Educators understand all too well that today’s students are in need of more than academic instruction. Teachers, counselors, and school staff often find themselves working to support students’ physiological, emotional, and spiritual needs in addition to their intellectual development. And while their efforts are often heroic, we can’t rely on our school teachers alone to provide this level of care.
When you begin thinking about the groups and people who will make up your larger team, think about bringing together a wide variety of players who can support students’ and families’ total wellbeing. You may want to frame your recruitment efforts within the 8 Dimensions of Wellness, which include 1) Emotional/Mental, 2) Financial, 3), Environmental, 4) Intellectual, 5) Social, 6) Occupational, 7) Physical, and 8) Spiritual.
Potential Partners to Consider
- Community counseling centers and professionals
- Trauma-informed care specialists
- Addiction recovery specialists
- Community banks and credit unions
- Financial literacy groups
- College saving plan advisors
- Financial planners
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) members
*Note: to support the financial wellbeing of your college access and success collaborative, you may also want to consider recruiting grant writers. Additionally, you’ll want to consider identifying a partner who can serve as a fiscal agent for any grants or donations you secure to support your collective efforts.
- Groups focused on placemaking
- Community development organizations
- Artists and art centers
- College admissions officers
- College professors and instructors
- Groups focusing on academic development (such as STEAM or robotics clubs)
- Tutoring centers
- Community youth organizations such as Scouts or 4-H
- School-based student clubs
- Leadership development experts
- Youth leaders such as team captains or student government association members
- College student groups such as student government, clubs, sororities, or fraternities
- Mentorship organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters
- Coaches for high school or community sports teams
- Career counselors
- Business leaders and professionals
- Major employers in the area
- Apprenticeship program directors
- Community health centers
- Fitness instructors or coaches
- Nutrition specialists
- Faith-based leaders such as pastors or rabbis
- Experts in mindfulness or meditation
One note: as you recruit additional individuals from the community, don’t forget to include the educators, students, and family members who are already advocates for your college attainment efforts. .
Have you ever been on a committee that has the best of intentions, but never manages to accomplish anything? Oftentimes, this is because the wrong people are involved.
When you start recruiting for your college attainment organization, be thoughtful and intentional in determining which individuals you invite to serve as members.
You’re looking for “changemakers,” people who represent that sweet spot between having the authority to make decisions and the time and ability to follow through on them.
For example, it may be incredibly valuable to have the support of the local bank president. But s/he may not have the time to attend numerous meetings or to volunteer hours completing tasks that need done. Instead, ask the bank president to nominate a person on their team whom they trust to make decisions and who has the ability to give your cause the time, attention, and sweat equity it deserves.
Focusing on Your “Why”
In a famous TED Talk, author Simon Sinek said “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” (It’s a short talk that’s definitely worth a watch.)
People who possess power, talent, or resources are asked constantly to support numerous community causes. So before you ask someone to get involved in your organization, make sure you’re able to clearly communicate why this matters — to the community overall and to them as a person.
Goal 2: Formalization
Developing a formalized communitywide college attainment program can help ensure more widespread impact and ensure that initiatives to support a college-going culture are sustained. You’ll need to work with partners to determine an organizational structure that works best for you. You may want to establish a foundation that not only provides programming but also funding for college-going initiatives. If you want to explore that route, we recommend starting your research with The Council on Foundations and Philanthropy West Virginia.
Another option is the network model, which has been proven successful in advancing college attainment efforts across the country. Here are some examples of successful college access/attainment networks you may want to research:
- Michigan College Access Network
- Florida College Access Network
- AzCAN (Arizona)
- National College Attainment Network (NCAN)
These are just two examples of organizational structures you may want to consider. The most important thing is to develop a framework that meets the needs of your community and makes the most of your existing assets.
Goal 3: Vision Setting
One of the most important steps to ensuring effective collaboration is developing a shared vision. This may sound simple, but we can all become so immersed in our specific areas of expertise and individual program objectives that we have trouble seeing how all the pieces fit together to support a common goal. Additionally, we may think we have a firm grasp of the problem to be solved and later realize there are underlying issues we’ve overlooked.
To begin the vision-setting process, we recommend reviewing the following resources:
- Article: Collective Impact (focusing particularly on the common agenda and shared measurement sections).
- Article: Empathize: The Heart of Design
- Article: How Reframing a Problem Unlocks Innovation
- Video: Setting Goals, Objectives, and KPIs
You may also want to share these resources with your team.
Then, work together to articulate your shared vision and common goals. Determine how you will measure progress. The Dashboard template included in this toolkit may be helpful in tracking shared measurements and communicating progress.
Aim for Intense Focus
Because you’re bringing together such a wide variety of stakeholders, you may find that you come up with numerous goals and objectives. Try to get specific and limit your focus so that you can work intensively on key problems. As a rule of thumb, we recommend defining one overarching shared goal and no more than five supporting objectives. Once you’ve achieved those aims, you can always tackle more later.
Goal 4: Quick Wins
In developing your college attainment organization, you’re setting your community up to succeed in the long game. Afterall, meaningful and widespread cultural change can take decades. But it’s easy to lose focus or support if you aren’t able to demonstrate some early wins.
To build trust and momentum, identify some initiatives you can accomplish as a team within the next 3 to 6 months. Be sure to communicate and celebrate your achievements, giving all members of the group ample credit for their contributions. Showing the broader community that you’ve already made an impact can help you secure long-term buy-in.
The tactics section below is a good place to find ideas for “quick wins.”
The following are practical, actionable ideas for engaging the wider community and securing “quick wins” for your collective initiatives:
- Ask partners from outside the school system to present on collaborative initiatives during school board or faculty senate meetings.
- Ask your school board members and your building leaders to formally recognize and adopt one or more of your organization’s goals and objectives.
- Secure news coverage for your initiatives and goals within local media outlets. A press release template is included in the Templates section of this toolkit.
- Ask your local media outlets to publish updates on your progress in achieving your organization’s goals and objectives.
- Provide presentations on your goals and progress to community organizations, churches or faith-based centers, and student leadership groups.
- Ask members of your organization to write letters to the editor explaining why your cause is important and why they’ve committed to helping.
- Find a community sponsor to fund school-organized college visits or provide scholarships for ACT or SAT prep courses.
- Work with athletic groups to have college facts or planning deadlines announced before games or during time outs.
- Make sure your school celebrates academic achievements at least as much as they do athletic achievements. Ensure that the number of academic awards is at least equal to the number of athletic awards — and that they’re equally visible. For example, if you have a trophy case displaying athletic feats, create one displaying academic victories. You may want to enlist community partners to sponsor awards or prizes.
- Partner with local businesses and organizations to develop job shadowing and internship programs for students.
- Ask businesses and organizations to participate in a college-themed window or door decorating contest. Encourage them to share facts about or pictures from their alma mater.
- Ask community partners to speak to students about their college experience. Or ask them to record short videos describing their college experience and post these on your school’s social media channels.
- Reach out to current college students who graduated from your high school and ask them to speak to younger students about their college experience. Encourage them to share advice and personal stories. Post their presentations on your school’s social media channels.
- Support the outreach and messaging of members of your college attainment organization. For example, repost or share one another’s social media posts or cross publish articles in newsletters.
- Develop a mentoring program and enlist community partners as mentors.
- Ask business leaders to present information about their workforce needs to school personnel or school board members.
- Engage community partners in activities surrounding College Application and Exploration Week, the FAFSA Completion Campaign, and College Decision Day.
At this stage, it is more important than ever to tailor your measures and key performance indicators (KPIs) to your community’s specific goals and objectives.
However, we have listed below some outcomes you may want to consider.
- You have created a formal organization composed of cross-sector partners from diverse backgrounds to focus on increasing college attainment rates in your community.
- Your attainment organization has adopted shared metrics, regularly tracked, with action plans.
- College and university staff members visit the school on a regular basis and collaborate regularly with teachers and counselors at your school.
- Counselors and teachers at your school have a close working relationship with state-level college-readiness professionals, such as CFWV and state-level financial aid representatives.
- Business and community leaders as well as postsecondary professionals are consulted when planning district or school wide goals and improvement plans.
- Data and research drive decision-making.
- Students and parents have a voice in school and district decisions and their input is valued and seriously considered.
- Your school and your college attainment organization clearly communicate your goals to the broader community and provide updates on progress.
- Your college attainment organization is composed of diverse members representing a variety of sectors, expertise, and backgrounds.
- Low-income, first-generation college, and minority students and family members are actively involved with your college attainment organization’s activities and leadership.
AzCAN: An organization supporting college attainment in Arizona.
Collective Impact: An article published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review that outlines a framework for effective and meaningful collaboration.
Eight Dimensions of Wellness: A detailed overview of the 8 Dimensions of Wellness provided by William and Mary.
Empathize: The Heart of Design: A case study describing how to get to the heart of a problem or issue.
Florida College Access Network: An organization supporting college attainment in Florida.
How Reframing a Problem Unlocks Innovation: Advice for understanding or clearly defining the problem to be solved.
Impact Management: This free, online course teaches participants how to center their efforts around a common cause or a desired impact. (Source: Trailhead.com)
Michigan College Access Network: One of the most successful college attainment networks in the country.
National College Attainment Network (NCAN): A national organization supporting college attainment networks across the country.
Philanthropy West Virginia: a nonprofit organization supporting West Virginia’s philanthropic organizations and foundations.
Placemaking: An introduction to placemaking provided by the Project for Public Spaces.
Setting Goals, Objectives, and KPIs: A video offering practical guidance for articulating a common agenda.
Starting a Foundation: A guide provided by the Council on Foundations.