Strengthening Education Partnerships, Data Sharing, and Equity-based Inquiry in the CSU

Thad Nodine HeadshotBy Thad Nodine, Senior Fellow, EdInsights

January 2019

This blog is the second in a series by the CSU Student Success Network to share information about efforts to eliminate equity gaps in the CSU. This blog reports on the CSU Network’s fall Convening focusing on regional education partnerships and the use of data sharing to support equity-based inquiry and outcomes on CSU campuses.

CSU campuses partner with schools and community colleges in a variety of ways, from data sharing to providing transfer support and career exploration. The partnerships usually share common goals: to expand the pipeline of students who are prepared to succeed at the university and to ease students’ transitions among the education segments. In many cases, CSU’s roles focus on supporting the efforts of K-12 or community college partners. Increasingly, the work also includes rethinking services and pedagogy at the university to support more equitable outcomes for all students at the CSU, particularly nontraditional college students, such as those who are first in their family to attend college.

These are some takeaways from the one-day Convening on Regional Education Partnerships held by the CSU Student Success Network in November at Sacramento State. The seminar provided opportunities for 11 campus teams of faculty, staff, and administrators to share their strategies for regional education partnerships and identify opportunities and challenges that these collaborations face. The teams discussed the use of data across education sectors to support equitable outcomes for students at the CSU. They also developed action plans to share data and reduce equity gaps at their own institutions.

The regional education partnerships represented a range of purposes, such as:

  • increasing access to and support for community college transfer students in engineering;
  • improving data sharing with high schools and community colleges to increase bachelor’s degree attainment;
  • strengthening math curriculum in high schools;
  • increasing the pipeline of bilingual teachers through high school, community college, and into the university;
  • using professional development to shift perceptions about nontraditional students; and
  • providing dual enrollment, major exploration, and career exploration for high school students.

Two speakers—President Robert S. Nelsen of Sacramento State and Superintendent Jorge A. Aguilar of Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD)—kicked off the event by discussing the role of regional education partnerships in achieving reforms and improving outcomes at their institutions. Both emphasized the importance of developing an institutional culture that respects and trusts the work of education partners, that persistently shares and examines student data across institutions, and that works internally to improve services and programs for all students.

President Nelsen described the progress that Sacramento State is making to increase its four- and six-year grad rates, and eliminate gaps for Latino/a students. He attributed these achievements to the work by CSU faculty and staff to focus internally on improving the university’s graduation rates, stemming from CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025. He also pointed to a partnership with SCUSD and Los Rios Community College District to examine data across student groups and across institutions. “It’s about reaching out,” he said. “It’s about sharing the data so we can create equity. We can’t change the numbers if we don’t know the numbers.”

He added that substantial work remains in continuing to increase graduation rates for all students and to reduce equity gaps for African American students. “The only way to change that is to work with others,” President Nelsen said. “What are we going to do to make this a stronger education system for all students?”

In December, Sacramento State reported the following milestones: its six-year graduation rates increased from 38% to 50% for all underrepresented students from 2015 to 2018, from 37% to 49% for low-income students, and from 38% to 49% for first-generation students. Equity gaps for the six-year rates narrowed significantly for all these groups during this period, and the gap was eliminated entirely for Latino/a students.

At the Convening, Superintendent Aguilar said that cross-sector education partnerships are crucial for both schools and colleges. “The burden of increasing graduation rates isn’t just about higher education,” he said. “It won’t work without partnering with schools.” Likewise, he said that the school district cannot hold itself accountable for preparing students for college without regional data sharing agreements that provide information about how its students fare in postsecondary education. California does not have a statewide data system that can provide this information routinely to schools.

Superintendent Aguilar said that SCUSD operates under this guiding principle: “All students are given an equal opportunity to graduate with the greatest number of postsecondary choices from the widest array of options.” Meeting this goal means supporting student aspirations to enroll in the best-matched postsecondary institutions they can. To track progress, the district gathers substantial data about past graduates’ college-going patterns, course-taking patterns in college, and success rates in those courses. High school counselors also have access to robust data dashboards that identify, for each student on their caseload, which colleges and universities they have applied to and which others they should be applying to, based on their achievements and the experiences of previous graduates.

“All of this depends on our ability to exchange data with higher education,” Superintendent Aguilar said. He said that it also requires transforming the institutional culture throughout the school district, so that all staff see the potential of every student.

These themes—the leveraging of external partnerships and cross-system data-sharing to advance internal reforms to increase equitable student outcomes—carried throughout the day, as the campus teams considered equity gaps at their campus, mapped out their partnerships, and presented their own challenges to other campus teams for feedback. Some teams discussed how to shift their campuses to an asset mindset to build on students’ strengths. Several swapped strategies for data sharing and for identifying and reducing equity gaps. Some brainstormed about how to manage and communicate across multiple partnerships within a university. People acknowledged the difficulties of leadership change. They asked each other how they fund and sustain collaborative work over time.

The participants’ plans for addressing change back at home included efforts to:

  • deepen communications and conversations, including asking difficult questions that disrupt traditional thinking around equity;
  • improve data-sharing infrastructure, including the creation of a data warehouse; and
  • build trust and support across campus for data sharing to improve student success.

The campus plans attest to opportunities ahead and the importance of the work. As one participant said, “intersegmental partnerships advance at the speed of trust, and that is a continual a-ha.” Another said, “with the pressure of GI2025, we really need our partners….Without our partners, we won’t make our goals.”

Past one-day Convenings by the CSU Network have addressed student readiness, data use to support student success, supporting transfer students, and first-year student momentum. For information about the next Convening, planned for April 2019 and focusing on Student Success after the First Year, please email, or subscribe to the CSU Network’s mailing list. The CSU Network is an independent network developed by CSU faculty, staff, and administrators to build on their collective work to support student success and close opportunity gaps. The Network is facilitated by EdInsights.