Pulse check: Completion by Design Texas

The PS team with leaders of the Texas CBD cadre

I just wrapped a day of very productive conversations with the Texas Completion by Design (CBD) cadre alongside my colleagues Suzanne Walsh and Bree Obrecht and our Director Hilary Pennington.  We were thrilled to be invited into this dialogue with representatives from each of the participating Texas CBD cadre colleges (Lone Star, Dallas, Alamo, South Texas, and El Paso) and the state policy lead, Educate Texas.  We were joined later in the meeting by Mike Collins (Jobs for the Future) – who is leading the state policy work across all four CBD states – and by Dr. Richard Rhodes (Austin Community College) who has agreed to chair the statewide advisory council for the initiative.

There is a lot to say about today’s meeting, but here are my top-level reactions:

  • Despite budgetary woes, TX colleges are thinking BIG.  Leaders in the room shared their inital thinking around pathway redesign and it became clear that this will not be another set of pilot projects that struggle to scale.  College leaders have internalized the goal of significant change for most students in their institution and their thinking is grounded in a shared belief that changes must impact a significant number of students.
  • There are clear opportunities to do more work together.  We spent a good deal of time identifying places where the colleges might work more closely together.  These ranged from building the evidence base around priorities like dual enrollment to developing “spec sheets” for the kinds of instructional and information technology solutions that could benefit the entire cadre, and pooling efforts around talent recruitment and development.  It was reassuring to see these colleges beginning to take stock of their collective assets and  searching for opportunities to do more together.  This model of collective intelligence is at the heart of the initiative.
  • Better real-time intelligence about student course taking can dispel myths, unlock solutions, and enable action.  It was clear that this is a data-informed group of leaders.  Not surprisingly, there was stong demand for higher quality, more timely data about student course-taking patterns.  Leadership described “home-grown” solutions that they have seen (Valencia, Sinclair), but they are thinking bigger than this.  Could the TX cadre work with the vendor community to develop a shared asset that would allow for more customized and real-time data on student course taking and attendance patterns?  The demand exists, but it is still unclear what this would look like.
  • The policy agenda is coming into focus.  Mike Collins (JFF) and Melissa Henderson (Educate Texas) facilitated a session with the CBD college leadership in which they worked to prioritize common areas of interest with regard to state policy.  The group has work to do to finalize this list, but it seems that they will continue dialogue around four key areas (1) transfer policy, (2) performance funding, (3) articulating program of study requirements, and (4) data quality/use.  This is a broad agenda and the group acknowledged that the key will be sequencing and communicating early and often to key stakeholders in the state.

Dr. Richard Rhodes (Austin Community College) and Michael Collins (JFF) discuss progress in Texas

While I’m up-beat about progress in Texas to date, I also realize that we did not have time to discuss some important outstanding questions: what is the magnitude of improvement (retention and completion rates) that these colleges can reasonably accomplish over the next 2-4 years?  How do we move forward with an improvement agenda when there is still a  fundamental disconnect in how colleges, members of the legislature, and the general public measure success?  How do we activate the broad base of college completion stakeholders in TX to ensure that the agenda has presence beyond this group of colleges and has the potential to truly transform postsecondary education in the state of Texas?  Given that we are unlikely to see new money coming into the system in the near future, how do colleges prioritize their efforts in a way that doesn’t sacrifice access or quality?

These questions are clearly bigger than a morning meeting and I know that they are on the minds of the TX cadre leadership.  Our hope is that we can begin to tackle these together between now and April when the cadre implementation plans are submitted.

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