A Data Collaboration to Recognize Institutional Success in Education
Updated: Mar 29, 2021
Educational Results Partnership (ERP), a leader in the field of using education data analytics to improve student outcomes, has put its data science expertise to work to help the Aspen Institute determine the Aspen Prize, a $1 million award given every two years to the country’s best community colleges. Established in 2010, the Aspen Prize is part of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program (CEP), designed to advance student success in higher education, leveraging research and data to identify schools and practices that are delivering exemplary results. The Aspen Prize
is considered the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges. It honors schools that have achieved exceptional outcomes, equitably across student groups, in learning, degree completion, and postsecondary success, both in the labor market and in transfer to four-year institutions.
IT ALL STARTS WITH DATA
Last year, the Aspen Institute turned to ERP to organize and simplify the review and analysis of comprehensive data from the institutions invited to apply for the prize. Applicants are selected through a rigorous quantitative and qualitative process. Data clearinghouses collect data from nearly 1,000 community colleges on a variety of metrics including student performance, improvement and equity. “Everything we do at the College Excellence Program, the Aspen Prize included, starts with data,” says, Keith Witham, managing director of CEP. “We ask, ‘Which institutions are getting
results for students?’ From there we can dig in to understand the practices and policies behind this success.”
“Everything we do at the College Excellence Program, the Aspen Prize included, starts with data,” says Keith Witham, managing director of CEP. “We ask, ‘Which institutions are getting results for students?’ From there we can dig in to understand the practices and policies behind this success.”
Based on the data gathered from this initial assessment, more than 100 institutions are invited to apply for the prize. Applicants must complete a thorough review process that includes examination of data on learning, graduation, workforce, and equitable outcomes for all students. A selection committee of experts reviews all applications and narrows the field to 10 finalists; the committee then conducts a multi-day site visit and conducts qualitative interviews at each institution. A
jury of notable scholars, public officials, and university and corporate leaders makes the final selection of Aspen prize winners, including a grand prize winner, finalists-with distinction, and rising stars. A culminating event celebrates the accomplishments of all finalists.
MAKING SENSE OF DATA
Throughout the selection and review process, Aspen teams must review and analyze quantitative data from multiple institutions on a number of factors. Historically, this has presented a number of challenges; much of the data is not easily or freely accessible, and not always presented in an easy-to-read format.
The metrics used in the Aspen Prize process differ in many ways from other national data collection efforts, which in the past has meant many extra steps were needed to translate the data for colleges. Moreover, data were collected across several disparate spreadsheets, making if difficult for Aspen’s field teams to quickly reference specific data points during site visits. The ability to tie qualitative inquiries from the site visits to specific student outcome data is essential for a rigorous and consistent assessment.
To more efficiently and effectively sort, organize, and use all the community college
data, the Aspen Institute looked to ERP. ERP’s capabilities were already known to WestEd and The RP Group, other partners of the College Excellence Program, through their work together on the California Community Colleges’ LaunchBoard project that provides educators across the state with data on student progress and employment and earnings outcomes. ERP, WestEd, The RP Group, and Aspen then launched a collaboration to develop a plan to support the quantitative aspect of the prize
process which could then more effectively inform the qualitative process, and in a more efficient, easy to use format. Aspen defined the issues and challenges to be resolved; they identified the data elements needed, and user interface requirements. The RP Group led focus groups to better understand the needs of field representatives conducting site visits. Aspen emphasized the importance of disaggregated data, progress metrics and ease of use. An iterative process involving all participants further refined the needs and end goal. The challenge was then given to ERP to develop a product that would best serve Aspen’s Community College Excellence Program.
As a result, ERP created a customized, highly sophisticated, private and secure data
‘dashboard,’ an information management tool that visually tracks, analyzes and displays key metrics and data points from multiple data sources in one easy-to-access place. ERP’s data dashboard resolved many of the previous data issues and was particularly valuable to site visit teams, enabling them to drill down on the
practices that produced the results reflected in the data. “Having a common set of data in which to ground the site visits saved time and allowed conversations to be more fruitful,” Witham says. “It was valuable to site visitors as a preparation tool instead of having to dive through multiple spreadsheets as they had in the past.” The dashboard delivers benefits to the finalist colleges as well, by giving them a tool they can use to identify areas for their own improvement. ERP’s dashboard, tailored to
meet specific needs, streamlined the entire Aspen Prize process.
“This project was compelling to us for many reasons,” said ERP President and CEO James Lanich. “The College Excellence Program uses data to understand how colleges are improving student outcomes, but it also looks at educational equity which is foundational to all of ERP’s work. We were particularly interested in this program as it includes a focus on historically disadvantaged demographic subgroups — our future workforce — and we know equity in education is an economic imperative.”
“This project was compelling to us for many reasons,” says ERP President and CEO James Lanich. “The College Excellence Program uses data to understand how colleges are improving student outcomes, but it also looks at educational equity, which is foundational to all of ERP’s work. So we were very much on board with a program that includes a focus on historically disadvantaged demographic subgroups – our future workforce.”
PUTTING DATA TOOLS TO WORK
Beyond the prize, ERP’s dashboard is also being used for the annual Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence, in which 40 aspiring community college presidents are selected for a yearlong training program in leading transformational change at their institutions. The curriculum requires
fellows to analyze outcomes at their colleges and start the strategic planning process to improve on key student success factors. “Even for someone within a college, it can be difficult to get up-to-date student success data in a clear, accessible, visualizable form,” Witham says. “This dashboard is a huge help for their fellowship work, as well as something they can bring back to their institutional teams to
In Aspen’s view, clear, accessible, current data that are easy for all stakeholders to
understand is crucial to an effective student success agenda. Successful colleges use data about student outcomes to build urgency for change, identify achievement gaps, establish goals, and drive decision-making across the institution. The challenge for most institutions is not always a lack of data but rather a lack of tools that can help visualize and prioritize a set of key indicators about student success. ERP’s data dashboard is designed to help institutions make more effective use of data to advance practices that improve outcomes for all students, an important goal shared by both ERP and Aspen. ERP is committed to using its expertise in data science to improve academic achievement, increase equity and identify opportunities for all students to be successful in today’s global economy.
About The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program
The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the Aspen Presidential Fellowship, Siemens-Aspen Community College STEM Award, and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit http://highered.aspeninstitute.org/.
About Educational Results Partnership
Educational Results Partnership is a nonprofit organization that applies data science to help improve student outcomes and career readiness throughout our nation’s educational system. In partnership with educators and employers, ERP charts the pathways that lead to academic success, improved equity and living-wage jobs. ERP’s goal is to ensure that more students are equipped to enter the workforce with the skills today’s global economy demands. For more information, visit www.edresults.org