September 16, 2011 9:49 am


Higher Ed Live was invited to the National College Access Network conference in St. Louis. Michael Staton from Inigral / Schools App and Matt Munson from Acceptly volunteered to take good notes. If anyone else that went has some notes, let us know and we’ll post from here.

Using Social Software to Increase Student Success
Michael Staton, CEO, Inigral
Greg Ratliff, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Michael and Greg discussed the emerging technology, social and mobile in specific, that will impact student access and success.

The Gates Foundation has been encouraged, at the leadership level, to invest into an ecosystem of technology innovation, including but not limited to the Next Generation Learning Challenges. Mr. Ratliff oversees a portfolio that increases student access to information that provides foundations for making more intelligent decisions and increases the likelihood that they complete their degree.

Mr. Staton said his company, which produces the SchoolsApp, is just one of many that are starting to address the challenges in education. The SchoolsApp helps welcome incoming students in ways that help them make friends and make better decisions to take the appropriates steps to succeed at enrollment and school, increasing the likelihood that they persist and complete their degree. He highlighted many other start up companies

Mr. Staton emphasized that startups addressing the education space are popping up everywhere. There is renewed energy in entrepreneurship in the space. The best thing that practitioners could do is to “get on the bus” and try these new tools.

The Next Generation of College Access and Success Messaging.
Jeanna Keller Berdel, Program Officer, Lumina Foundation for Education
Melanie Corrigan, Director, National Initiatives, American Council on Education
Carolyn Stanek Lucy, Associate Director, National Initiatives, American Council on Education

This presentation was primarily a case study on KnowHow2GO, a marketing campaign backed by the Lumina Foundation to raise awareness of the need to prepare for college early, as far back as in middle school. The urgency around this topic is clear, the US has been dropping in international rankings in college completion and this may be the first generation in history that is less educated than the last.

The KnowHow2GO campaign honed in around very clear messages, with very clear steps: Be a pain. Push yourself. Find the right fit. Put some money in your hands.

The remainder of the presentation seemed to be about how to secure grant funding for your organizations. The themes centered around making a good impression, building a lasting relationship, and crafting and delivering an effective ask.
Tips included

  • On making a good impression: do your homework, know the foundation’s goals, frame your work in those goals. Build partnerships effectively.
  • On building a relationship: Offer expertise. Be a resource for anyone doing work or research in your area. Do consistent guerrilla PR, especially using Twitter.
  • On pitching effectively: make sure you ask for what you want. Follow 2-1-2 pitch strategy: two points to frame the problem, one point around the ask, two points on what the result will be if the ask is fulfilled.

Data Management

We’re here checking out the NCAN session on Data Management. The panel is composed of Greg Johnson of Bottom Line, Lisa Zarin from CollegeBound, Emily Steinberg with College Forward, and Tiffany Gurley-Alloway with Education is Freedom. Whew! Now that we’ve got the crew sorted, here’s the lowdown.

The good news is you’re not alone. Apparently we’re all overwhelmed with the numerous, conflicting definitions for data management and the plethora of tools available for helping you dive deep on your data. The panel did a pretty decent job of hacking the data management endeavor down to size. Lucky for you- we’re recording a few of their tricks here.

To set the macro-view stage, and this will come as new grand surprise, we learned that budget cuts mean a greater need for better data. In short, if you want to guarantee (or at least bump up the likelihood) of your organization getting funded, you NEED good data. Funders are more expectant than ever when it comes to hard data and clearly presented proof of effectiveness. That means getting your data house in order pronto.

We ran through the multiple sources of data. Self reported (asking your students directly) remains the easiest and cheapest. The problem is this kind of data isn’t verified, and students often have an incentive to lie (i.e. out of embarrassment of not getting into their target schools.)

A second option is the old-faithful survey. Great tools are emerging (hint: check out SurveyMonkey if you’re somehow still uninitiated to their rockin’ platform.)

A third option? How about focus groups. To our surprise, the panel suggested only using focus groups if you are willing to pull in third party consultants to help make certain you are asking the right questions and pulling data appropriately. That seemed overboard to us, unless you’re flush with cash for consulting firms, but whatever…that’s the recommendation.

Lastly, and speaking of throwing some cash around, we discussed 3rd party data options. Some of those mentioned included ACT/SAT/College Board AP score reports, as well as the National Student Clearinghouse (whose next-day presentation was a shameless infomercial for their services…but given their low price points you may want to forgive them and check them out nonetheless.) Lastly, the panel suggested photocopying the acceptance letters your students receive so that you can later prove efficacy (or snap a pic with your iPhone if, like us, you can’t remember how many years ago your scanner broke.)

In general, the problem faced by many of our organizations is that we are data rich but information poor. If you think you may be in this position, take the time to sit down with your board, or your executive team, and construct a more formal plan for leveraging the data you are collecting. The power of your data can provide huge shortcuts in fundraising, constituency reporting, and evening hiring, but only if you figure out how to leverage it appropriately.

Lastly, if you still have some cash at the end of the year, hire an evaluation consultant to do review your data strategy. Make sure you negotiate a discount on the first service so you can evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts. However, if you find a winner, they’ll be a valuable long-term member of your team.

Happy number crunching!

Selling Your Impact in an Era of Outcomes

We’re here checking out the “Selling Your Impact in an Era of Outcomes” presentation at NCAN. Pranav Kothari, MD at Mission Measurement, is giving some great nuggets on presenting data in an effective fashion.

Pranav reminds us to avoid lukewarm tea. It’s impossible to sell lukewarm tea. You need either hot tea, or cold tea. Hmmm…deep Pranav! Of course, he means that your data point needs to stand out and set you apart. Sell hot tea, sell iced-tea, but don’t sell lukewarm tea.

The “Success Equation” overview was interesting. The idea is that you should break down your ultimate goal into the necessary metrics. The best metrics:

* 1. Can be spoken by a board member
* 2. Crisp and Simple
* 3. Based on data that may already exist or can be easily created
* 4. Have credibility
* 5. If appropriate, mirror industry standards.

Pranay challenged the audience to be intentional about charting out their Success Equation with their board or management team. What are the key “priority outcomes” that combine to create the broader impact you are looking to achieve? Once you identify each, you should outline the performance measures you are going to track for each.

Colleges Matter: Variation in Practices and Outcomes for Affordability
Matthew Reed, Program Director for the Institute of College Access & Success

Matthew Reed, Program Director for the Institute of College Access & Success, spent an entire presentation thinking he was talking about policy issues around financial aid. Unknowingly, he was actually arguing for better usability design.

Reed illustrated that the complexity and misinformation pervades the financial aid efforts, especially from the perspective of students. Students are often unaware, misinformed, and are not accessing the available information in ways that could help. Part of the problem, as Reed illustrated, is that many schools have a Financial Aid portal that requires its own custom login, and students need to remember to go to it. Outward communication, like email and snail mail, are often not opened and when opened too complex and inconsistently designed. Award letters, in particular, are all in different formats and are very difficult for students to decode. Some letters even seem meant to be purposefully deceiving. For those whose parents are not able to help, it can be difficult to make the best decision in the face of that complexity.

One interesting point Reed made was that often expensive elite private schools end up being a better deal for low-income students due to generous financial aid, but students assume they could never afford it so they don’t even apply. For instance, Stanford is actually cheaper than Berkeley for low-income students. Many wealthy private schools actually have taken pledges to do grant-based aid.

The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, in addition to requiring Net Price Calculators, asked that a task force look into the problem of complex financial aid award letters, and propose a model format so that consistency can help with . Award letters must be clear, comparable, and consumer-friendly. A point brought up by the audience is that the logistical process of enrollment timelines are not transparent to High School Counselors.

Mr. Reed also highlighted an interesting data tool to compare the value of various institutions called College Insight.  You can use the tool and find interesting data.

Below is a brief recap video of attendees sharing their takeaways from different presentations.

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