To & Through Advising Challenge Resources

Thank you for your participation in the To & Through Advising Challenge, which is made possible through the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. On this page you will find various resources related to topics that grantees and coaches indicated were of interest and need. The resources are organized topically. Please email Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation (debaunb@collegeaccess.org), MorraLee Keller, Director of Technical Assistance (kellerm@collegeaccess.org), or Zenia Henderson, Director of Member and Partner Engagement (hendersonz@collegeaccess.org) with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Table of Contents

Advising Resources

Data Resources

FAFSA Resources

Summer Melt Resources

Advising Resources

Collective Impact

  • Data sharing agreement” is a phrase that is likely to cause a wide range of emotions in program staff; apprehension, bewilderment, and anxiousness are just some of them. The process of setting up an agreement between two parties, be they schools, districts, or non-profit entities is one that can be confusing and complicated. Fortunately, the William T. Grant Foundation’s Research-Practice Partnerships series has an entire module devoted to Developing Data Sharing Agreements, which includes guiding questions, work samples, and other related documents. The rest of the series is also worth a look, but this is the module with the most utility for NCAN members. 
  • StriveTogetherreleased a very handy Data Sharing Playbookthat dovetails nicely with the above resource. The playbook is intended to “help community organizations effectively partner with schools on data-driven ways to improve education outcomes. This resource includes seven principles about how to begin and grow a data-driven initiative, as well as practical resources to help communities implement complex data partnerships with schools and other community partners.”
  • "To and Through: Community and Technical Colleges in South Seattle and South King County" - The Road Map Project is a collective impact initiative that began in 2010 to improve student achievement from cradle through college and career in seven King County school districts: Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, (South) Seattle, and Tukwila. The Road Map Project is focused on increasing credential attainment and closing opportunity gaps."

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Connecting College and Career Success

  • Delaware has developed strategic partnerships that connect college and careers for students. Facing a workforce hiring need in 2024 that was larger than the state’s entire K-12 population, stakeholders from across the spectrum came together to change Delaware’s college and career landscape. This report from Jobs for the Future walks through the five broad areas of work that Delaware engaged in: 
    • Build a comprehensive system of career preparation that aligns with the state and regional economies;
    • Scale and sustain meaningful work-based learning experiences for students in grades 7-14;
    • Integrate education and workforce development efforts and data systems;
    • Coordinate financial support; and
    • Engage employers, educators, and service providers to support Delaware Pathways.
  • Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce is a well-known source of labor market data and research. The staff there don’t mince words with the title of their latest report: “Good Jobs That Pay Without a BA.” The report defines a “good job” as one offering “$35,000 ($17 per hour for a full-time job) as the minimum earnings for those under age 45 and $45,000 ($22 per hour for a full-time job) for workers age 45 and older.” They also note that “in 2015, these good jobs had median earnings of $55,000 per year.” The report asserts that “the reported death of the middle economy is greatly exaggerated. There are 30 million good jobs in the United States today that pay without a BA (bachelor’s degree).” Not only does this research explain geographic shifts in the types of jobs available, but it also includes state-by-state analyses and reports that are very handy references.
  • Gallup and Strada Education Network teamed up to survey Americans about how they chose their college majors. Talking to more than 22,000 individuals, they classified responses into four buckets indicating where they solicited advice about their major. The buckets included formal sources (counselors and the media), informal social networks (friends, family and community leaders), informal school-based sources (college staff and professors, high school teachers, coaches), and informal work-based sources (employers, coworkers, experienced professionals, and the military). Strada and Gallup found that 55 percent of U.S. adults with some college but no more than a bachelor’s degree listed their informal social network as the top source of advice about their major. Despite this, informal social networks’ advice was rated the second-least helpful category (after informal work- and school-based sources). The implication here is disconcerting: students are most often not taking the most useful advice. The silver lining? First-generation students pursuing a two-year degree were much less likely to rely on their informal social networks for advice about their major.

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Early Awareness / Elementary and Middle School

  • If your organization works with middle school students and you find yourself wishing you had a better set of indicators that might give you an early sense of their college and career readiness, the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research has a report that you should definitely read.  In “Looking Forward to High School and College: Middle Grade Indicators of Readiness in Chicago Public Schools,” researchers find that students’ grades and attendance patterns are better predictors of their high school and college success then their test scores. Included at this link are key findings for both middle and high school teachers (and they’re likely to have some application for advisors serving these populations). Keep in mind that the external validity here (how widely these findings can be applied) is somewhat compromised because the research is Chicago-centric, but given the dearth of research on indicators in the middle grades, this is a promising start.
  • NCAN’s Common Measures for Middle Schools are a list of indicators appropriate for grades 6-8 that may contribute to postsecondary access and readiness
  • Early Awareness via NCAN

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Fit and Match

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High School Graduation

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Parent Engagement  

  • Many NCAN members are already mindful of how to successfully engage parents in their student’s success. But not all NCAN members – and some surely would like to be better in this area. Enter the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Engaging Parents, Developing Leaders: A Self-Assessment and Planning Tool for Nonprofits and Schools.” The resource is in part an assessment of how well an organization does four things: “builds a culture of respect, inclusion and equity,” “coaches parents on their competence and confidence in their roles,” “listens to and collaborates with parents,” and “works with other organizations and communities to benefit parents.” Chock full of group exercises that should open a dialogue for organizational examination, this resource could be one to flag for your next team-building time.
  • Parent Engagement Strategies listed below are provided by Ashley Johnson from the Detroit College Access Network:

    • Utilizing the senior parent meeting to not only discuss prom and senior dues, but to discuss the school's college application calendar and expectations (including FAFSA). Providing parents appropriate handouts and checklists.
    • Conducting FAFSA workshops in places outside the schools, but still in the neighborhood like a library, church or CBO.
    • Working with CBOs and faith-based organizations who already have relationships with parents (like Detroit Parent Network).
      • Asking them to host FAFSA parent meetings
      • Asking them to partner with counselors to make calls to parents who have not completed the FAFSA
      • Partner with organizations who provide free tax support
    • At least 1 mandatory parent/ counselor or college adviser meeting (for all juniors and seniors)
    • Offering multiple opportunities for parents to complete their portion of the FAFSA
    • Student competitions and training students as near-peer mentors to support each other

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Postsecondary Advising Platforms

Many college access organizations from around the country have developed tools that address the fit and match needs of their students. Some of these fit and match tools below fall under the more common header of college search tools. The tools listed here really do help refine which colleges may work best for a student.

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Promoting Buy-In

  • The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) has a good piece titled “Better Than Cake: Using Data to Celebrate Team Wins.” Data isn’t just for external audiences; it can be used as an internal motivator and congratulator. Programs are collecting a lot of data these days; how is your program using that data to point out what you’re doing right? This is sage advice: “Just as we hope to make our supporters feel like they are a part of something greater by sharing data on what they’ve helped us achieve, let us also remember the people by our side who want the same thing.”
  • James E. McCoy, superintendent of Lee County Public Schools in Alabama, has a short but sweet reminder that comes from the K-12 context but is applicable to NCAN members as well. This is his advice (just substitute “advisor” for “teacher” for your college access and success program): “Teachers need tools that allow them more time to teach, not add time to updating databases and spreadsheets. These tools need to be easy to use as well. There is proof that evidence boards make a difference in confirming a student’s progress or identifying a plan when the student is struggling. Transparency can create a space for healthy competition.”
  • The Association for Institutional Research (not to be confused for the American Institutes of Research) are a respected voice for the data scientists and analysts on college campuses who work with institutional data. In this mailbag, Craig This, Interim Director of Institutional Research, Wright State University-Main Campus, answers the question “Dear Craig, what are some effective approaches I can use when presenting data to faculty?” His answer is great, and it applies to more groups than just faculty. His advice? Understand that not all faculty are alike, do the math for attendees, define your data definitions, and drill down to specific groups rather than looking at an aggregate group.
  • It can be tough to encounter people and organizations who are skeptical about the transformational power of using data effectively. This report from the Future of Privacy Forum provides 19 snapshots of times in the K-16 system when analyzing data helped to change things up. “This report highlights the ways that newly available technology, data, and analytical techniques can create better educational outcomes. It presents concrete examples from Pre-K through higher education of how education data can be used to benefit students, the education system, and society-at-large.”
  • NCAN, in collaboration with Exponent Partners, published a two-paper series on how organizations can become more data-driven. The first paper, “Driving Toward Program Improvement: Principles and Practices for Getting Started with Data.” A portion of this white paper focuses on tips for promoting buy-in around data.
  • Making Big Data Useful Rather Than Scary for Teachers

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Student Engagement / Mental Health / Socioemotional Learning / Building Self-Belief in Students

  • In recent years, NCAN members have shown a lot of interest in non-cognitive skills, “soft skills” and socio-emotional learning. These are admittedly tricky to measure. This guide from the Partnership for Children & Youth is “designed to help school districts and their partner organizations identify tools to assess the quality of their practices in relation to socio-emotional learning (SEL). Most of the tools in this guide were designed for expanded learning – after-school and summer – programs, but could be implemented in school-day or other environments.” The guide examines intended users, data sources, levels of analysis, target program age, and other aspects of these tools.
  • How a District Integrates SEL With Academics
  • Creative Ways to Solicit Youth Input (Webinar)

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Data Resources

Becoming Data-Driven / Using Data Effectively / Data Flows

  • I don’t often use the phrase “must-read” because there is so much out there that is useful and rewarding, but this article is must-read. “Using Data for Action and Impact” appeared in the summer 2016 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review. In it, Jim Fruchterman talks about the challenges and benefits of using data in the social sector. He does this through the lens of “the data supply chain” and discusses how data flows from organizations’ beneficiaries all the way up to international policymakers. These users’ needs vary considerably, and at each stage, aggregating data changes how it can be used. He also discusses the difficulty of measuring the impact of our organizations. If you remain unconvinced about all the data conversations taking place in the college access and success field, start here. If you need to convince someone in your organization about how data can and should be used, send this to them, whether they’re above or below you in your organization’s hierarchy. The clear, concise and thoughtful analysis here is decidedly worth everyone’s time.
  • Webinar: What is a logic model? When should I use one? Join To & Through Advising Challenge Data Coach Jim Lauckhardt as he walks through a logic model he designed for one of his grantees and discusses the basic structure of a logic model and when to use one.
  • What is a data-informed organization? At its most basic, it’s one that collects and tracks information about constituents. The ideal is to incorporate data as part of the culture so that it becomes second-nature to collect and act on it. The polar opposite is to not collect or track any information at all, which leads to uninformed decision-making. An organization’s data maturity is measured on a progression, or spectrum, and most fall somewhere in the middle. This report defines five stages of data maturity and identifies the factors that comprise them. It also includes a brief self-assessment to help you determine the status of your own data efforts, which is the first step toward advancing. For each stage, we’ll tell you about the actions you can take to progress and identify possible barriers to success. Acknowledging what is keeping you from moving forward is a key step toward improving your use of data.
  • The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University hosts the Strategic Data Project, which pairs data analysts with school districts to perform high-impact data analyses. The SDP makes available its Toolkit for Effective Data Use. The toolkit is “a resource guide for education agency analysts who collect and analyze data on student achievement. Completing the toolkit produces a set of basic, yet essential, human capital and college-going analyses that every education agency should have as a foundation to inform strategic management and policy decisions.” Although these tools are aimed at those working in school districts, many of the skills will apply to work done in college access and success organizations. The toolkit includes dummy data sets and step-by-step directions for data cleaning using Stata software. This resource is probably not a light undertaking, but it could give a fledgling analyst some more experience with key data skills. Also of note from the SDP is the “Strategic Use of Data Rubric,” which can be used “as a basis for gathering evidence of data use across the organization allows educational leaders to identify specific areas for improvement and highlight specific steps to move the organization toward using data more strategically.”
  • Organizations talk all the time about how they are data-driven, or at least want to be. But organizations do not become data-driven overnight. It’s a gradual process, but where does that process start? “Getting Started with Data-Driven Decision Making: A Workbook,” from the Nonprofit Technology Network and Idealware (which is a useful provider of a number of webinars on non-profit organizations, not just data-related topics), asks just this question. This document is free (just put in your contact info) and well worth your time if your organization is search for square one to becoming data-driven. This guide goes step-by-step to identify questions your organization wants answered, the metrics that could answer them, who would use those metrics, how they would be collected and tracked, and more. This would make for both a great staff retreat activity and a reminder of all the steps to consider when expanding data tracking.
  • The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) wants to tell you how to ruin your organization’s productivity using a database in five easy steps. If your organization is using a database now or is thinking about migrating to one, go ahead and heed these caveats.
  • The Association for Institutional Research (AIR, not to be confused with the American Institutes for Research) is a great resource for higher education professionals working in institutional research offices. It also tends to have some content that is more widely applicable. “Implementing a Data Governance Framework” is one such piece of content. There is some really great advice for programs looking to establish better data-related policies. This is my particular favorite: “Consider an incremental approach. Although an incremental approach to establishing a data governance framework can be problematic (because some pieces of the framework can’t function until others are in place), consciously implementing the framework in logical phases has several advantages. First, it allows you to identify and celebrate concrete successes early in the process, which is crucial to developing buy-in and momentum. Second, like any major task, realizing something as broad and involved as an institution-wide data governance framework is more manageable when deliberately and thoughtfully divided into its component parts.”
  • NCAN, in collaboration with Exponent Partners, published a two-paper series on how organizations can become more data-driven. The first paper, “Driving Toward Program Improvement: Principles and Practices for Getting Started with Data,” focuses on building a data-driven mindset, refining your logic model, adopting data management practices, and building your capacity. It’s for programs in the earlier stages of becoming data-driven. The second paper, “Roadmap for Tracking Your Student Results: Program Data and Systems,” provides a review of some foundational steps, frameworks for data management with a system, and analysis methods.
  • Sidekick Solutions has a quick read on “The 4 A’s of Nonprofit Data Management” – Accumulate, Analyze, Apply, and Act, each of which has its own action steps. A good companion piece to this (if I do say myself) is the NCAN blog’s “Lessons Learned from ‘Managing the Data-Driven Organization,’” which recounts a great session I attended at the Do Good Data Conference this year.
  • “WHEN ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE FAILS”: This piece from the Stanford Social Innovation Review struck a chord with me, given how many stories about organizational changes and transitions we hear about from NCAN members. David La Piana notes, “The technical, initiative approach is also ill suited to most organizational strategic challenges. Why? Because a new strategy requires, in a very real sense, a new culture to carry it out.” He goes on to outline three steps to every strategic challenge: “1. Defining the problem correctly; 2. Devising the correct strategy to address it; 3. Moving the culture to implement the changes necessary to make the strategy a success.”

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Data Dashboards

  • Many organizations are developing dashboards to quickly and efficiently visualize their progress against outcome targets. We are still on the lookout for a clear and concise resource on how to develop dashboards, but this guide from Salesforce is a good first step toward that end. Actually, it’s a good…five…steps. “5 Simple Steps to Reports and Dashboards.” The principles shared here do not require that you be using Salesforce for your data management.
  • I’m often asked about building dashboards. There are two questions about building dashboards: the technical how and the abstract how. The Association for Institutional Research tackles a little bit of both succinctly, and gives some advice for those just starting out. Pro-tip: “Traditionally, the data elements you want to place the greatest emphasis upon are placed in the upper left of your dashboard page. From there, more attention is paid to data elements down the left side and in the center of the page. The bottom and right side of your dashboard layout will receive the least amount of attention.”

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Data Literacy and Skills

  • Public Profit has a handy resource called “Dabbling in the Data” which offers “field-tested ways for teams to make meaning of data, including refreshers on key concepts for rigorous analysis techniques. These collaborative, team-centered activities teach how to analyze data in a meaningful way, engaging the group in rich discussions to interpret the data. More importantly, Dabbling helps teams determine how to respond to what they find. Dabbling in the Data provides step-by-step guidance on 15 different approaches, organized into five sections: distribution, change over time, contribution, categories, and communicating findings.” I’m not normally a fan of icebreakers, but sign me up for these.
  • We often extol the virtues of disaggregating data to members. Breaking data down by student characteristics, whether they be demographic or service-driven, can identify hidden income and outcome gaps that programs would want to address. The Annie E. Casey Foundation has a short post on why disaggregation and data presentation both matter when organizations use data to address equity issues.
  • VLOOKUP is a powerful Excel tool that helps to connect different sheets or sources of data and can help you to search for data quickly and efficiently. Oz du Soleil, a quirky, charismatic Excel expert and author of the Excel On Fire YouTube channel, walks viewers through this video. For example, want to match names and demographic info into an Excel sheet based on the student IDs in another sheet? With VLOOKUP, you can do that in a flash. After you’ve learned VLOOKUP, be sure to also check out videos on using AND/OR as well as AND/OR/IF.
  • Let’s start off by being blunt: everyone runs into bad data from time to time. If you work with enough data sets, you’re going to encounter missing data, duplicated data, and a whole host of other problems. That’s okay. Don’t panic. The Quartz Guide to Bad Data wants to help you navigate these troubled seas. The guide is broken down by “issues that your source should solve,” “issues that you should solve,” “issues a third-party expert should help you solve,” and “issues a programmer should help you solve,” and there are detailed descriptions of a number of problems under each heading. Quite a handy (and approachable!) reference.

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Data System / Technology Tools

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Data Visualization

  • There are a number of topics associated with data visualization, such as data cleaning, dashboarding, converting data to new forms, etc. This warehouse of tools has something in all of these categories and more. If you have been tackling a dataviz problem, start here and see if you can’t turn up a solution.
  • Tableau is here with a thoughtful (pun very much intended) post about how data visualization can use psychology to be more effective. Taking advantage of the way people think about spatial context, shapes and icons, and color can make data visualizations more easily understood and engaging for viewers.

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FAFSA Resources

FAFSA Campaigns

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Student-Level FAFSA Data

Many states allow districts and schools to receive student-level data on FAFSA submission and completion. Districts engage in a data sharing agreement to receive access: 1. Data Agreements Needed (after state-level agreement with the U.S. Department of Education is completed): a. K-12 Agency & ISIR Receiver (only if using student level for match); b. ISIR Receiver and Local Education Agencies.

The list below links to state-level resources for setting up this student-level data relationship. For more information, please contact Stephanie Ricker, Academic Project Manager, Colorado Department of Higher Education

  • Alabama
  • California>
  • Florida – TBD
  • Georgia
  • Massachusetts - Currently does not provide student-level FAFSA data
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey – Currently does not provide student-level FAFSA data
  • New York
  • North Carolina - Currently does not provide student-level FAFSA data
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Texas –  Access to student-level FAFSA data is built into the Apply Texas Counselor Suite.
  • Washington

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Training for Counselors on Financial Aid Verification Follow-Up

  • NCAN’s eLearning platform - A set of online training modules that address college admissions advising, financial aid, serving specific student populations, data tracking, college success and cultural competency. We have two units that specifically address the FAFSA filing process and the FAFSA follow-up steps. Available free to all employees of NCAN member programs. Check out the roster of courses, course descriptions and registration form at the link above.

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Predictive Analytics and Program Evaluation

  • New America’s Manuela Ekowo asks, “Colleges must ensure that all members of society — including the least privileged of them — have a chance to access a quality education. So how can predictive data be used to increase underrepresented students’ odds of admission rather than reduce them?” Interested in more on predictive analytics in the postsecondary space? New America has you covered.
  • Mathematica Policy Research, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education’s Regional Education Laboratories (REL) program, is out with a video series around conducting “opportunistic evaluations.” Those interested in learning more about how to integrate evaluations of your services and activities into an existing program can start here.
  • The New York Times takes a look at Georgia State University and other postsecondary institutions that are using the ubiquitous “big data” to predict student success and identify students who may be at-risk for not persisting or completing. This is only going to become more prevalent, not less, so readers should familiarize themselves with the concept and the execution.
  • Radio Higher Ed is a periodic podcast that features experts discussing various facets of higher education. An episode focused on “Using Data to Improve Student Outcomes,” and the hosts chatted with Timothy M. Renick, vice president for enrollment management and student success, vice provost, and professor at Georgia State University. GSU has been held up as an example of using analytics and predictive modeling to better serve students and – most importantly – close achievement gaps between different student groups on campus. This is a half-hour well-spent.

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Selecting Indicators and Measures

  • If you work for a school district or your program works closely with a school district and you wish you could get a better system of metrics established to see how students, schools, and the district overall are performing, take a look at the College Readiness Indicator Systems (CRIS) Resource Series. This will take a little time to read through, but it’s worth it. Launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CRIS worked with research and school partners across the country to develop indicator systems around three dimensions of college readiness: academic preparedness, academic tenacity, and college knowledge. The resource series has six parts, but the chart in the link above describes what it included in each part and who is most likely to benefit from reading it. Notably useful for most members are likely the following:
  • Menu of College Readiness Indicators and Supports – “A list of research-based indicators and supports to choose from in building an indicator system, organized across the three dimensions and three levels.”
  • Selecting Effective Indicators – “A guide for determining what indicators to include in district data reporting systems, in light of a district’s priorities and capacity to provide interventions and support.”
  • District Self-Assessment Tool – “A tool that supports a district’s effort to assess and strengthen its organizational capacity to plan and implement a college readiness indicator system.”
  • Essential Elements in Implementation – “A report of promising implementation strategies with concrete case examples, drawing on CRIS implementation in partner sites.”
  • The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)’s “Driving Toward Greater Postsecondary Attainment Using Data” is a handy infographic that shows which data points are likely to be helpful for tracking at every point in the readiness-to-attainment continuum. There are also handy stakeholder resources for all of the parties with a vested interest in college access and success.
  • Keeping in line with the “predictors of postsecondary success” theme, the American Institutes for Research offer up a denser (but more comprehensive) set of Predictors of Postsecondary Success culled from the literature. Their research is broken down into early childhood, elementary, middle, high school, postsecondary, and adult age groups and includes indicators (“measures with established thresholds...[at which students] are more likely to be prepared for their college and career pursuits”), predictors (“measures that are strongly correlated with improved postsecondary outcomes but for which a numeric threshold has not been established”) and other potential factors.
  • This handy checklist from Deborah Elizabeth Finn, a nonprofit strategist and consultant, is a useful tool for any program collecting data, regardless of its experience level. The checklist walks through the five W’s and one H (remember your student newspaper?) around data collection. If you’re considering adding a new metric or reconsidering whether you need to keep an old one, this is a handy rubric that can give you some insight into its value.
  • Common Measures Quick References: Two short documents listing all of the Common Measures and the abbreviated citations to the research related to them. One covers NCAN’s "Access" and "Success" Common Measures while another covers a set of Middle School Indicators.

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Working with NSC Data

  • The National Student Clearinghouse is a great source of student postsecondary data, especially when organizations use their StudentTracker service to look up enrollments and completions. Unfortunately, programs often report trouble matching their students with the Clearinghouse’s records. There are many reasons why this might happen, and “The Missing Manual: Using National Student Clearinghouse Data”by Dr. Susan Dynarski and her colleagues attempts to clear some of these up. This paper is a very useful NSC resource and includes history, institutional coverage, issues around suppressed records because of privacy laws, typographic errors, and finally “a discussion of practical issues for program evaluators using NSC data.”
  • NCAN has teamed with Degrees of Change and their FoYoSt College Enrollment Visualizer to offer a discount to first-time users. FoYoSt allows users to upload their National Student Clearinghouse StudentTracker detail file to be converted into student- and program-level dashboards. Programs can use this visualizer to sort through their students’ postsecondary outcomes both individually and in the aggregate, making analysis quicker and easier. First-time FoYoSt users will receive an 18-month subscription for $500.
  • Tips for Making Matches with the NSC StudentTrackervia NCAN’s blog

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Summer Melt Resources

College Matriculation Surveys

Other Summer Melt Strategies (Non-Texting)

  • NCAN has developed two units the focus on college retention/success. In these units summer transition workshops, using social media, and summer bridge programs are highlighted as ways to prevent summer melt. Go to NCAN website to register for these courses at no cost.
  • "Lessons Learned from a Summer Melt Prevention Program"

Texting Strategies