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Student Success Centers Build on Work of Completion by Design

Originally published on Completion by Design's blog.

After a decade of dozens of national completion efforts, many states and colleges are feeling the weight of initiative fatigue. The financial support and technical expertise that have accompanied the many initiatives have been a welcome contribution, but the dizzying array of reporting requirements, data requests, expectations, and timelines is also daunting.

The reality on the ground is further complicated because, all too often, similar but distinct initiatives operate in silos rather than as aligned conversations where the sum is greater than the individual parts. While some colleges and states have been challenged to find balance and alignment, others struggle to get access to the information and expertise about the most promising innovations. The lack of alignment and limited information combine as a significant impediment to scaling the promising lessons that have emerged from all the investments, piloting, and research over the past 10 years.

Seven states have created Student Success Centers (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas) to tackle these challenges and help unify the states’ colleges around a common agenda and learning program. The Centers combine a laser-like focus on sharing and spreading evidence-based innovations at the institution level with a commitment to aligning myriad success initiatives across the state into a clear statewide completion agenda.

The Kresge Foundation, which provided funding for all the existing Centers, has also partnered with Jobs for the Future (JFF) to foster the nascent Centers by creating a cross-state peer-learning network. All seven states currently belong to JFF’s Student Success Center Network and JFF has developed the Student Success Center Toolkit that describes how Centers are structured, highlights what they have accomplished, and provides advice for those seeking to launch a Center in their state. Drawing on this toolkit, the primary functions of a statewide Student Success Center include:

  • Convening and engagement: Bring colleges together around reform; develop faculty leadership; create in-state networks and communities of practice; advance cross-sector collaboration; attend national convenings
  • Student success strategy alignment and coherence: Map and align institutional, state, and national student success initiatives relevant to the state and its community colleges; create an umbrella framework and marshal necessary resources to accelerate the completion agenda
  • Data use to guide priorities and investments: Improve data usage through work including sharing, transparency, consistent metrics across initiatives, and increased institutional research capacity
  • Research and knowledge management: Synthesize evidence on models and their performance from in-state and national sources and make that information easily accessible to college innovators; make institutional strategies and their outcomes visible through newsletters, policy briefs, and other publications
  • Policy development and advocacy: Help sharpen agendas for system and legislative change that promotes completion; identify and coordinate policy research needs; assist institutions with assessments of needed policy changes at the institution, system, and state levels, given their completion goals and strategies.

The states that have created Student Success Centers have sought to bridge the gap between policymakers and practitioners and to help unify the states’ colleges around a common agenda and learning program. These Centers have emerged as powerful infrastructure for change and innovation. The seven states collaborate with nearly one-third of all public two-year colleges in the country. These institutions, in turn, enrolled 43% of the students in the two-year sector in fall 2013. The potential reach of the existing Centers has led to increased inquiry and interest about their potential as vehicle for scaling innovations.

To this end, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Kresge Foundation have come together to fund an additional set of Student Success Centers. Partnering again with Jobs for the Future, the foundations are interested in leveraging the power of these state-based intermediaries to accelerate needed completion-focused reforms. Jobs for the Future recently released a Request for Proposals to fund up to four additional statewide Student Success Centers. Proposals are due October 9. Read a press release about the 2015 funding opportunity and download the new RFP.