Touring Ohio's College Access Programs, Part Two

February 20, 2015

Bill DeBaun, Program Analyst

Earlier this week, I posted the first part of my Ohio site visit blog post where I recounted visits to college access and success programs in Cincinnati. Welcome to its companion piece about visits in Columbus and Cleveland.

A previous blog post already covered a lot of details about Columbus’s I Know I Can, so I’ll try not to rehash too much of that.  On this site visit, I had the chance to see the CollegePATH platform used by both IKIC and College Now Greater Cleveland. CollegePATH is a platform that can be used to manage student data like financial aid and academics. It also works as an early warning indicator system and allows for robust reporting. Although I saw an earlier version of this tool last year, I was impressed by how much it has developed since. With the ability to create a dashboard based on much more complex “and/or” logic, the platform has allowed these two Ohio programs to become even more data-driven. This platform was created by Learning Circle Education Services, which seems to have a strong commitment to talking to users about what kinds of general, platform-wide developments they would like to see. In this way, the platform continues to grow and adapt to meet the needs of its users.

When you work with data in an office all day, it can, admittedly, be easy to forget that the names and IDs in a spreadsheet row are real-life students out there who need to be prepared for college and beyond. Because of this, I’m grateful whenever I get the chance to do a site visit that takes me to a school. I Know I Can took me to a middle school in south Columbus. While there (for the last period of the day, so you know that I saw the students at their most alert!), I watched I Know I Can's AmeriCorps members help students to go through a Naviance module on which careers might be best for them given their responses to an interest survey. It is hard for students to think about their adult careers in middle school, and I was reminded of this when a student told me he heard that one percent of people go on to become professional athletes (my odds were certainly never that good). Even if they aren’t taken immediately to heart, exercises like this seem to help turn students on to the wide variety of possibilities in the workforce. Many of the students seemed unfamiliar with many of the professions that were listed, so perhaps this started to broaden their horizons.

After bidding Columbus farewell, I continued up I-71 (I cannot recommend doing so in a snowstorm, as I did) and arrived in Cleveland. Technical difficulties and extreme cold prohibited me from visiting Project GRAD Akron (stay tuned for a profile of them coming soon), but I was able to make it to College Now Greater Cleveland.

College Now is another organization that was recently profiled on our blog. I arrived at the Tower City Center (a very massive combination train station, shopping mall, hotel, and office building) and headed to College Now’s new Resource Center. This space sees a lot of traffic every day and is equipped with computers for students and adults to check-in and receive assistance from advisors. Each interaction between an advisor and a client is logged in the CollegePATH data platform and coded for duration, type of service received, and any qualitative notes the advisor has. This adds up to a very large number of interactions and a huge amount of data (even more so because CollegePATH syncs with Cleveland’s student information system for attendance, grades, etc.). Fortunately, College Now, like its buckeye counterparts in Cincinnati and Columbus, is both data-driven and data-mature.

Across all of the many sites at which College Now delivers services (Cleveland metropolitan middle and high schools, local parochial schools, schools in districts surrounding Cleveland), advisors are completing a similar process of logging interactions with individual students. The number of interacts at each school is compiled and reviewed weekly, and managers look for patterns to see where service is being over- or under-delivered. Managers and advisors stay in frequent contact to ensure that reasonable progress is being made on their work plans, which are collaboratively developed at the beginning of the academic year. Work plans revolve around a few different goals: number of interactions with students, number of scholarship applications submitted, FAFSA submissions, Naviance usage, and delivery of College Now college and career readiness workshops. The collaborative development of the work plans helps to balance advisors’ accountability with their ownership in College Now’s data-driven culture. The amount of effort this all takes should not be underestimated. Last school year, College Now served 98 percent of Cleveland Metropolitan School District seniors at least once. In a future blog post, we will detail College Now’s entire data collection, analysis, and reporting cycle.

Programs working with metropolitan districts, in particular, may want to consider reaching out to some of the programs described above to get some insights or ask some questions about what practices might be transferable and beneficial. This was just one lesson I took away from what was an extremely productive series of site visits. I thank each of the organizations that hosted me for their time, attention, and commitment to their important work. Like NCAN members across the country, the programs I visited are changing student lives every day, week, month, and year. 

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