The Santa Ana Partnership creates winning formula for student success

150 150 Ed Coghlan

Santa Ana College graduation. (Photo Credit: wendybird512/Flickr)

The Budget Act of 2014 appropriates $50 million in one-time resources from the General Fund for the Awards for Innovation in Higher Education. Five campuses were awarded the maximum prize of $5 million each and CA Fwd will feature them in a weeklong series. Santa Ana College won $5 million for a program that has been underway for three decades. Dr. Sara Lundquist, the Vice President of Student Services at SAC provided this perspective on their program.

CA Fwd: Briefly describe what your innovation was designed to do?

Sara Lundquist: “The Santa Ana Partnership was created in 1983 to maximize college-going overall by ensuring that critical activities that are considered “optional” elsewhere are built into the system here. This includes a rigorous program of high school studies, applying to college, submitting financial aid and scholarship applications, early college enrollment, intrusive advisement and educational planning. High stakes college planning and completion actions are reviewed personally with students and parents at critical intervals, are included in graduation expectations, and are highlighted in a report card to the community.

This work has included establishing one-stop Higher Education Centers on every high school campus, linking discipline-alike faculty across the segments to develop articulated pathways, encouraging early college enrollment, and creating a roadmap to completion supported by a year-long schedule of classes at SAC while expanding Open Educational Resources, ensuring financial support to low-income students, and creating guaranteed transfer to partner universities.”

CA Fwd: These innovations take partnerships–who did you work with and why was that important to its success?

Sara Lundquist: “Working with the Santa Ana Unified School District, Santa Ana College, CSU Fullerton, UC Irvine, The Hispanic Education Endowment Fund, the Padres Promotores de la Educación, the SAC Foundation, the City of Santa Ana, LULAC, Comunidad Latina, and others was important because educators along with business, community, and philanthropic leaders, shape the culture, expectations, and learning environments at schools, colleges, and universities in the greater Santa Ana area. Transforming the conditions of education requires engaging a wide variety of organizations and institutions with a stake in the educational attainment level in Santa Ana so that we can use our collective capacity to drive and sustain positive change. This approach has enabled us to make enormous progress in educational achievement that has been modeled nationally, as we continually imagine and reach for the next level of excellence regionally. 

CA Fwd: What did you learn?

Sara Lundquist: “We learned three important lessons:

  1. The most important progress is measured in student terms and that our greatest success will come from carefully aligned mission-central goals across organizations with clearly articulated increments of success for each active strategy.
  2. Timely and dynamic data is electrifying and empowering.
  3. We realized that while small scale initiatives are invaluable to boosting achievement for participating students, working at scale with policy and practice is what equality of opportunity requires.”  

CA Fwd: Speaking data and analytic(s) what have you used to assess the impact of this work and have they helped? 

Sara Lundquist: “We use a variety of strategies that includes direct data transfer from SAUSD to our Partnership’s research hub at UCI, and from there to partnership research analysts, who connect related qualitative data, and share information with the Partnership, practitioners, and institutional effectiveness leaders. This basic data populates the Santa Ana Partnership Scorecard and is uploaded into software tools such as Tableau, where dynamic analysis of academic pathways and student success can be charted across segments and queried continuously. State and national data bases such as the California Community College Student Success Scorecard, CSU and UC data repositories, the National Student Clearinghouse, and Santa Ana College’s Degree Audit system enrich our understanding of college completion driving and restraining forces. Taken as a whole, these are invaluable (but fragmented) tools through which we can understand and improve pathways to completion.”

CA Fwd: How will you sustain the innovation that you were awarded for?

Sara Lundquist: We have been doing for it for over three decades by convening leaders who are already positioned to influence policy and practice in their institutions and organizations and share a common commitment to equity, achievement, and college attainment. By having no appointed director or paid leadership staff, we constantly focus on student impact, collaborating to scale what works. Partners continuously inform strategies and assess results which engenders a strong sense of shaping our community’s future by innovating in the present. In addition, our robust menu of year-round professional development for secondary, higher education, and community partners helps us introduce new approaches and expedite their activation across the partnership. We cut the red tape across institutions through the collaborative and strive to capture every conceivable opportunity to establish what works as standard practice while courageously addressing what does not in the service of students.

Specifically, we plan to deploy the award funds by establishing endowments that will directly address the Award for Innovation priorities with students and parents as the primary beneficiaries. Approximately $250,000 will be set aside for research and data infrastructure improvements that will have a lasting impact on our analytical capacity across the educational pipeline.

CA Fwd: What could the state do to make it easier to encourage innovation in higher education (and other parts of state government)?

Sara Lundquist: “Four opportunities come to mind:

  1. Attack the invisible barriers to equality of opportunity to excel. There are many examples, but one that we feel in relation to the Awards for Innovation is the fact that community colleges are permitted to teach high school students tuition free, but are prohibited from reporting attendance to the state for undocumented high school students that will become AB 540 students upon high school graduation. This barrier will discourage others from adopting and expanding one of the best college degree accelerators available.
  2. Create an intersegmental student data/tracking system that is accessible and current.
  3. Provide more rewards to proven innovators in the form of regulatory relief and local control.
  4. Ensure stable and predictable funding for public education to avoid the boom and bust cycle that stresses innovation and subdues the scaling of effective practices.”

Ed Coghlan

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