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Michigan: Collective Impact for College Access

Posted by: Emily Gorin Malenfant on 3/15/2012

Last week, my colleague Ellen Martin and I had the opportunity to join the Council of Michigan Foundations Community Foundations Retreat to discuss collective impact and what the approach might mean for their work in college access. And what a visit it was! In addition to the local microbrews and Zingerman's chocolate, we were encouraged and excited to hear about the stories from local community foundations and how they're grappling with critical questions of how to build and sustain college access networks around the state, using the collective impact approach. We heard stories of community foundations taking on roles in rural, suburban, and urban communities; engaging with cross-sectoral players; and shedding light on data, problems, and gaps; and grappling with what it means to "own" a problem and how they can have the greatest impact.

Today, we wanted to share some of the fabulous questions and comments raised by the group. As context, many of COMF's members have taken on a challenge issued by the Kresge Foundation, the purpose of which is to "leverage local private investment to engage and sustain college access partnerships, thereby increasing the college-going rate and culture and Michigan." 

We led the group of foundations in a brief role play exercise focused on African American boys' educational achievement, and the comments we heard were revealing:

  • "I got to take on the role of the parent, and I'm so glad I did, because it helped me see how much jargon we use every day. We are so stuck in our lingo, and it makes it harder to let others in on the conversation- especially parents and kids, the voices we need most!"
  • "It can be hard to keep in mind that it's about the kids, when there's so much at stake for all of the players at the table. There's a real appearance of winners and losers, and so much stake in the game. This lets me think about my work in a new way, thinking more about how we need to make sacrifices for the common good-- student achievement."

Many of the community foundations already deeply engaged in the Kresge college access network work asked great questions, too, which their peers and FSG responded to and shared ideas about. For example:

  • "Is anyone else finding that we as community foundations are just so well-positioned to take this college access work on?"
    • This was met with a resounding YES! "Our donors care deeply about education, and it's one of the most pressing community needs." "We are thinking about leveraging donor scholarship money towards this." "We're exploring using our unrestricted and donor advised funds."
  • "How can I make the case that college access and success are critical, when my community is dealing with other pressing issues of crime and unemployment?"
    • "Creating the sense of urgency is key. How are you using local media to spotlight the problem? How are you using data?" "Making the case to a range of players about 'what's in it for them,' if education improves-- how will this impact crime, how will this improve public safety, how will this create more economic opportunity."
  • "In an education initiative like this, who is the right backbone structure?"
    • "Who wants to be the backbone? How much credibility do they have in the community? Can they really devote the resources to doing this?" "In our community, we're the backbone. But in the community in the next county over, the school district has taken this on." "Context matters!"

We would love to hear more from others using collective impact to drive educational achievement- how are you tackling these issues and others?



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Mark Johnson-Lewis
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There's actually a substantial (although not well documented) knowledge base on collective efforts in education. To name a few that I've been directly involved in: KnowHow2Go; Partnerships for College Access and Success; Teachers for a New Era; Health Professions Partnerships Initiative.

I'd be happy to talk through any of this in more detail. Jeff Cohen knows how to reach me.
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