The Power of State Networks
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The Power of State Networks

Aligning the work of state agencies, colleges, universities, community organizations, and philanthropy towards common goals takes trust, a neutral intermediary, and a focus on what is best for students.  State-level networks across the country are leading efforts to make their state’s education and workforce systems better.  Ryan Fewins-Bliss of the Michigan College Access Network, Chandra Scott of Alabama Possible, and Laura Winter of the Missouri College and Career Attainment Network discuss the ways their networks build trust, advance postsecondary policy and practice, and improve equitable outcomes for students in their home states.

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Episode 34

The Power of State Networks

Lumina Podcast episode 34

Show transcript


0:00:08.5 Dakota Pawlicki: Welcome to Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Talent, the show with newsmakers and thought leaders discussing ideas, challenges and solutions in the world of learning after high school. I’m your host, Dakota Pawlicki, and I’m excited to dive into today’s conversation with you. You know, on this show, we’ve talked with high education leaders, commissioners from state agencies, students, legislators, philanthropists, non-profit organizations and scholars. In each of these conversations, we’ve uncovered the work that they’re doing to improve education and workforce outcomes, but we haven’t spent much time with those people and organizations that connect all of these pieces together. Across the country, statewide networks exist to fill gaps, break down silos and add capacity to people in organizations working to improve talent. These networks often get less visibility and yet drive policy change, distribute funds and resources for programs, collect and share data and connect colleges, employers, public agencies, non-profits and philanthropy together to pursue common goals. They are neutral, apolitical and often, highly effective. So today we’re talking with three leaders who operate large successful state networks. We will explore what they do, how they do it and some of the pressing issues that they are pursuing in their states.

0:01:24.5 DP: Later in today’s show, we’re gonna visit with Laura Winter, the Executive Director of the Missouri College and Career Team and Network to talk about their growth from a regional to a state-level network and ongoing efforts to improve equity throughout the state. We’ll also hear from Chandra Scott, Executive Director of Alabama Possible about their efforts to eradicate generational poverty through advocacy and collaborative action. But first, let me bring you to Michigan, where we’re gonna meet with Ryan Fewins-Bliss, the Executive Director of the Michigan College Access Network. Ryan and his colleagues at MCAN operate one of the largest independent state-level networks focused on college access and success. He’ll share how his organization plays a unique and critical role in a state that does not have a higher education state agency. Let’s make sure we listen in and hear what Ryan has to share.


0:02:16.3 DP: Joining me now is Ryan Fewins-Bliss, the Executive Director of the Michigan College Access Network. Ryan, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate you being here.

0:02:24.5 Ryan Fewins-Bliss: Thanks for having me. As a long time listener, happy to be here.

0:02:27.4 DP: Oh, that just warms my heart, brother. Yeah. So listen, what is MCAN? [chuckle] I think a lot of folks don’t quite know what state networks are like, and certainly Michigan, you have the unique one. Just give us a description a little bit about what MCAN is and what you do.

0:02:42.5 RF: Yeah. Michigan College Access Network, or MCAN as we’re sort of colloquially known as, is a statewide intermediary non-profit, so that means we’re not serving students and families directly, we’re serving the institutions, the systems, the schools, those folks who work with students and families directly. Ultimately, we’re trying to increase college readiness, persistence, completion, participation, all of the metrics that folks in the field are looking at, and ultimately, we’re trying to lead here in Michigan toward what we call the SixtyBy30 goal, which is 60% of Michigan residents having a certificate or degree by the year 2030.

0:03:23.2 DP: Yeah. And when did MCAN get started? ‘Cause I think you guys have a really interesting history to tell.

0:03:28.2 RF: Yeah, we officially started in 2010. We were part of the Governor Granholm administration, who was several governors back now. She was at the end of her term, she was looking at using the Federal College Access Challenge Grant funds from the Obama administration, and they did a gap analysis for the state, what is missing. And I know you know this, Dakota, but your listeners might find interesting, we are one of the only states, if not the only state that doesn’t have a SHEEO. We don’t have a university system, we don’t have a community college system, we don’t have somebody at the governor’s level, we don’t have a Department of Higher Education, nobody exists in that role, which exists in, I think, every other state in some format. And so that was the gap that was identified in that administration, and so MCAN was born out of that. We’re still not a SHEEO, we’re still not part of the government, we don’t play that same role, but we do coordinate and galvanize and bring attention to postsecondary attainment in the state in the way that a SHEEO would were one to exist in Michigan.

0:04:30.7 RF: And so we rolled out of the Governor’s office there at the end of her term, not knowing whether there was going to be someone who was supportive of our work in office after her. Luckily, we found there was. There was a party switch in the Governor’s house, so we went from a Democrat to a Republican, but it was a Republican businessman, Rick Snyder, who ultimately found a lot of support for what we were doing. He had hired people, he had run businesses and knew that talent development was really important, and postsecondary attainment was a strong strategy there. So we’ve been long supported by his administration, and then most recently, our newest Governor, Governor Whitmer, again, a party switch from Republican to Democrat has come through and has continued to support our work and double down really on SixtyBy30. She is the one who launched the SixtyBy30 effort. It’s the first time we’ve had a postsecondary attainment goal at the state level in our history, so it’s been a long progression through multiple parties, but everyone seems to see the talent issue that we have in our state and country and be on the same page.

0:05:37.5 DP: Yeah, I think that that history Ryan, is just incredible for a couple of points. One is, there’s a lot of conversation about, “Hey, if we were to start a state network, how did they start?” And as we’re hearing from all of our guests today, they’re all unique to that state’s context, and so I appreciate you kinda sharing the evolution. The second part that really stands out is just further evidence of how non-partisan focusing on talent development from a state level really is. You’ve had tremendous support from both democratic and republic administrations, legislatures, etcetera, and really stand the course of time, and I’m looking at the stronger nation report for Michigan in 2009, right? Before your creation, Michigan’s postsecondary attainment rate was at 35.8%. Jumping to 2019, which is when the latest data is available, already 49.1%. And while attribution of that kind of metric is impossible ’cause it’s a population kind of thing, I can’t help but notice that as this has increased, MCAN has also been on the stage, and it’s just incredible work.

0:06:41.5 DP: I wanna dig into that a little bit better because you’ve used the word intermediary, you talked about how unique Michigan is and that you don’t have a SHEEO, there’s not a coordinating board or higher education office at the state level. So I know sometimes your organization acts as what we define as an intermediary, someone who is between multiple players, helping to coordinate that broad ecosystem, develop programs, operate things, but you also have a lot of other things, you do advocacy work, you have great communications work, you do direct service work, so how do you at MCAN actually advance your goals and make the kind of progress that you’re seeing at a state level?

0:07:20.1 RF: That’s a great question. We’ve really defined our work, or at least divided our work internally in terms of system, so we’ve got a department that works at the high school level, high school innovation, changing high school culture, changing school district culture, giving grants, doing professional development to school counselors and some of our oldest and most robust work. We also have a department that works in the community system level, so we have what we call local college access networks, LCANs, in Michigan, we’ve got about 25 of those. We’re building local infrastructure in counties and cities to raise postsecondary attainment in that area. So they’re working on a community level. We do some grant-making in that department, we have some liaisons across the state where we don’t have these Local College Access Networks, so really trying to gin up interest locally. Michigan’s a strong governance local control state, like many in the Midwest are, so really putting that onus back in the local community to develop their own strategies, but we get to provide them coaching and technical assistance and grants to help them do that.

0:08:28.4 RF: We also have a national service sector that we worked on, so we have two large AmeriCorps programs, one that places college advisors in high schools across the state based on the national college advising core model, and then we’ve got a program that puts college completion coaches and tribal and community college campuses to help students progress toward either transferring to a four-year program or ultimately graduating with a certificate or a degree. And then that department thinks about how we use volunteerism as a strategy to help increase postsecondary attainment across the state, so some really innovative and fun work.

0:09:07.6 RF: In December, my board passed a new strategic plan that calls for us to think about postsecondary success as well as access, so we’ll be building out some infrastructure here, probably like a department around student success in higher education. They also expanded our work to do more workforce and employer engagement, so we’ll be working on developing some strategies and some infrastructure around that, and they expanded our scope to work on the adult student issue too, so we’ll be influencing all of our departments with that mindset. And so that’s how we divided up our work by sector, by system, and then we’ve really pushed hard to do some of that change. We’re very student-centric. And I say that not just as a talking point, but most of the time in the room, folks are representing other interests other than students. I don’t mean to say that they don’t care about students and aren’t students-centric, but we’re not beholden to K-12 buildings and districts, we’re not beholden to higher education institutions, we’re not beholden to the government, we get to represent what’s best for the student, which sometimes is not what’s best for adults and what’s best for faculty members [chuckle] and what’s best for K-12 institutions.

0:10:23.8 RF: So we get to be the folks who are operating to say, “What makes most sense to students?” And do all of that through an equity lens, focusing on students of color, low-income students and first generation college-going students. So that’s sort of the framework we’re working with here in Michigan to try to fill in some of those gaps from not having a coordinating governance agency around higher education.

0:10:46.6 DP: Yeah, I so appreciate that point you landed on because I of course agree with you that a lot of times when there are conversations going on around what needs to happen to improve training after high school, postsecondary education, college, workforce. There’s a lot of folks who have to come to that table, wherever that table is, and kinda represent their interest, but you do have a unique position as being a independent nonprofit organization, still state-focused, but also not really beholden to one particular agenda or to a particular constituency group. How does that present challenges? I know first on one end of it, there is the business development challenge of it, right? With some associations, for example, gets stuck in the trap of trying to be a good advocate while also making sure that they can still represent their members very well, but what are some of the challenges that really are associated with playing that voice of both a neutral convener while simultaneously being a tireless advocate for what students needs, even if that means recommending or pursuing something that maybe some of your other stakeholders might not be interested in doing?

0:12:09.2 RF: Well, I would describe it like any relationship. Dakota, I know you’ve got a lot of friends. So if you think about your relationships with your friends, sometimes you’re feeling really good about your relationship with a friend, sometimes you’re sort of on the outs, maybe they said something that offended you or something like that. That’s sort of how we operate here in Michigan. We’re friends with everybody, right? We are often on the same page and the same side of issues. And I would argue most of the time we’re on the same side, but where certain issues come across, a great example of this is FAFSA completion requirement as part of high school graduation, our friends in the K-12 systems have decided that that’s not an issue that they support, but they understand why we support it, and so on that issue, we’re on different pages, and I would say we’re sort of on the outs, but on the other nine issues that we’re working on, we’re on the ins and we’re friends and we get to work together. Ultimately, everyone understands that we get to be the voice of the students in the room, and it’s really hard to argue against that. They can argue against the particular issue, the particular policy point, but it’s really hard to get mad at MCAN because we’re advocating for what’s best for students.

0:13:24.4 DP: Yeah, I appreciate, ’cause it is. It is a relationship, Ryan, and I think a big thing, you know, you talked about your departments and all of that, but something I know about you and all your colleagues at MCAN is you’re also relationship folks, and you have to maintain those kind of positive relationships, working relationships with so many stakeholders in order to be able to disagree on some things and agree on others, and you need to have that broad base of trust. Ryan, one of the reasons I was so excited to talk to you for this show is ’cause I know whenever I get someone who says, “Hey, I wanna run a new state network or something like that,” I always say, “Go talk to Ryan,” because you have navigated so much of this, and in terms of state-level postsecondary networks, you’re, in my opinion at least, one of the top models. When you’re talking to folks that I keep sending to you and booking all of your meetings for, [chuckle] what advice do you find yourself giving most often to other states or other leaders who wanna do what you’re doing in Michigan?

0:14:30.7 RF: That’s a great question. What I often tell them is to do what we did 12 years ago, which was do an analysis of what is necessary in your state. Is a state-wide network even necessary? What are the gaps around programming or the gaps around policy? And if there’s not a gap, the world does not need another non-profit institution as much as I love statewide college access networks, but where there are places that there are real gaps in programming and efforts and advocacy, that’s where I think folks should double down on, fill the gaps that exist, because you’re rarely stepping on toes where there are gaps, right? ‘Cause there aren’t other folks in the space who would be offended that you are now entering the space.

0:15:17.6 RF: So that’s a big plus to that. There’s usually funding available better to fill gaps rather than duplicate efforts, and you’re more likely to build the relationships and the friendships that you need by solving people’s problems, so that’s how I present myself to our legislature, our funding partners, we’re helping to solve problems that other folks aren’t solving or can’t solve a loan, and that’s the compelling argument for a state-wide network, and if there’s no compelling argument in your state for type of work, for that type of framework, a state-wide network probably isn’t the solution. Most states have some sort of gap that needs to be filled as some role that needs to be played by a state-wide network, so my advice to folks is figure out what those things are and do that.

0:16:09.1 DP: Mmh-mm. I also know that a lot of folks say, “Hey, if we’re doing a state-level network, it must be funded through state appropriation,” for example, or, “It should never be funded by state appropriation,” because then you feel beholden to a particular administration. You obviously are doing a whole lot of work, you work with a lot of different funding streams, is there any… How do you advise folks in other contexts to make sure that their state-level network is well-supported?

0:16:45.4 RF: Well, I come from a sense of practicality, Dakota. [chuckle] As you’ve known me for a long time, you would probably describe me the same way, so if the state has money available to you, take that money, if the federal government has money available to you, take that money, but live your ethical life, even though you’ve taken that money. So Michigan, we get a $3 million state appropriation annually that flows through our State Department of Education and then over to our Labor and Economic Opportunity department, so the three of us sort of work together on that appropriation, but it is not unusual, in fact, I would argue it’s routine for me to call up a state agency, call up a state legislature, call up the Governor’s office and say, “Here’s what’s not working, here’s the barriers in this scholarship program that you’ve put into place for students of color. We think you should change that. We’re here to help you change that.”

0:17:38.3 RF: So I don’t ever pull any punches because we get state funding, because on the other side of that $3 million in state funding, we’ve garnered $7 million for a total budget of about $10 million annually from private philanthropy and other funders, so we’ve been able to leverage funding in both the public and private sectors to build that partnership, so I never feel beholden to anyone, I get to speak our truth. And again, it’s all student-centric, it’s really hard to argue with what’s best for students. It’s a good place to be and it is a right and ethical place to be, and I don’t let the money guide that.

0:18:19.7 DP: So you have SixtyBy30, the statewide goal, you mentioned earlier. Congrats on getting that set. 60% of Michiganders with a high quality postsecondary credential by 2030. You’ve talked a little bit about the new strategic plan that’s been approved. Clearly, some research on the Georgetown talks about how by 2020, 70% of jobs require some kind of postsecondary credential. What’s the big priorities? What’s on your horizon?

0:18:54.0 RF: Great questions. Exciting that the governor in creating the SixtyBy30 goal created a Sixty by 30 office. So again, we haven’t ever had any higher education infrastructure in the government level, this is still not quite higher education, but it is focused on post-secondary attainment. And it is now the pivot point for our Department of Education working on the K-12 side, our treasury department, which holds all of the scholarship funds, our labor and economic opportunity department, which really runs our workforce efforts and training efforts in that way, so part of the big horizon is helping that SixtyBy30 office develop itself, define itself. What are they gonna do that we have traditionally been doing? How do we navigate to make sure we’re working in tandem rather than, again, duplicating efforts? That’s a big part of what we’re working on and helping to partner with that office right now, and then as I mentioned, the new strategic plan really gives us the on-ramp to what the next three years are gonna look like. We’re gonna build more workforce and employer strategies, figure out how to engage folks in those pathways conversations so that students are understanding the full depth of the decisions they’re making when they decide what to do for post-secondary attainment, where can I go in the state that offers those degrees, how much is it gonna cost me, what does that student debt load look like, and ultimately what’s the employability of that?

0:20:19.9 RF: Just like every other state, I’m sure Michigan is facing major talent struggles we’re facing at MCAN as well, we need to find more talented people, so helping to make sure those things are more aligned. Again, all student-centric, so it’s not necessarily what’s best for the businesses. It’s what’s best for students and their own economic independence and building of wealth and assets over time, but again, for the most part, there’s a lot of overlap in those needs and wants. So we’ll be working in that area. We’ve never really focused on adult students, we’ve mostly focused on the transition point between high school and college, so we’ll be looking at building out new strategies around how we engage adults, there’s some new scholarship programs at the state level that have really brought adult students more into play. Again, we’ll be finding those gaps to figure out where we can support more adults. And then ultimately looking at student success, we hit an ethical question where we’re trying to pipeline more students of color, first generation college going students and low-income students into post-secondary, but our post-secondary completion rates are not what they need to be, and especially when you disaggregate by those three populations, they’re even worse.

0:21:36.0 RF: So at some point, woke up in the middle of the night and said, “Am I actually helping people of color by getting them access into these systems which are really failing them, they end up dropping out.” And as you know, Dakota, when students drop out, they often carry that student debt from the credits they did take, which they struggle to pay off because they never earned the certificate or degree, which helps them earn more wage to pay off those loans, so it is… They’re worse than when they started when they had no debt and no education, so I really felt called to ask our board to think more long-term, how do we ensure that we’re working with our post-secondary partners and communities and all those systems levels to make sure we’re finishing students, completing students, not just sending them to college. I’m really, as you can probably tell, jazzed by that work, because I think it is an ethical and moral calling for us, so I’m excited to do the right thing, but I also think it offers lots of opportunity, opportunities for us to work with our post-secondary partners that we’ve been working with for more than a decade.

0:22:43.1 DP: Yeah, you guys have just been so wildly successful since your creation, so I have no doubt that your next, what’s on the horizon here, is gonna lead to great success as well. And I encourage everyone to go check out MCAN and your new plan and all the great resources and initiatives that you guys have on your website, and yeah, check it out, and as you just said, there’s a lot of room to do a lot of great things. So if anyone’s listening and wants to join the MCAN team, go check it out, ’cause I know Ryan, you’re looking for some great talent. But Ryan, I just appreciate the time, I know you’re crazy busy, especially with all these new things that you’re trying to tackle, so I’ll free the rest of your day up for you, but thanks so much for joining me and telling us a little bit more about MCAN.

0:23:25.6 RF: Well, thanks Dakota. Before I go, I will be remiss if I didn’t give a lot of credit to the Kresge Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the state of Michigan, early investors in our work still investors to this day, I appreciate all the praise, but we would not be where we are without those three funders.

0:23:41.6 DP: Now thanks, and incubation matters. That’s one of the key lessons for philanthropy, is that taking a risk and incubating some things can really pay off in the end, and I think you’re a shining example of that, my friend.

0:23:54.3 RF: Well, thank you.

0:23:55.4 DP: Yeah. Alright, Ryan, have a great day.

0:23:57.9 RF: Thanks.


0:24:01.8 DP: Joining me now is Chandra Scott, the Executive Director of Alabama Possible coming to us from Birmingham. Hey Chandra, how are you doing today?

0:24:09.0 Chandra Scott: I’m good Dakota, good morning, so great to be here with you.

0:24:12.3 DP: Yeah. Good morning. Listen Chandra, you and I go way back and I’m so delighted, we’ve been talking about getting you on the show to talk about your work for, well, since the show really began, and so I just appreciate the chance to catch up and learn about Alabama Possible. Maybe that’s where we should start today, why don’t you tell our folks just, what is Alabama Possible?

0:24:33.5 CS: Sure, Alabama Possible is a statewide non-profit that’s in Alabama, we’re headquartered in Birmingham. It’s been around since 1993 so it’s not only non-profit, have been really grounded in the work of breaking barriers to prosperity, and that work is done through advocacy, collaboration and education. Really, the work of this organization is really about just creating pathways for individuals or Alabamians in our state to really break the generational poverty that’s so vast in Alabama.

0:25:07.4 DP: So generational poverty. Can you just talk a little bit more about what you mean and what generational poverty looks like in Alabama?

0:25:17.6 CS: Sure, in Alabama, I have to say that we have over 700,000 families that are living below the poverty line, and that includes well over 270,000 children. And so we know if we can make sure that the students across our state are given access to resources that allow them to expand on their education beyond high school, whether it’s two-year, four-year credentialing, it will allow them and afford them an opportunity to take on jobs and opportunities and careers that are various in our state, across the state, that can really change the trajectory of their lives and of their family’s lives going forward. And so to us, that’s what we try to give attention to, is really understanding the plight of the families in our state and how… Where they’re under-resourced, and find a way to elevate their voices. And behind me, just to share in this podcast is our data sheet that we distribute every year, and we use that information to really understand the counties, where the gaps are, where unemployment rates are rising, where child hunger is rising across our state, and being able to really give voice to that, so policy leaders across our state would know, can make informed decisions to put the right resources in place in those counties.

0:26:38.7 CS: But as an organization, we take pride in making sure that those individuals that live in those areas, that their voices are heard, and people understand that how we rewrite the narrative around what poverty is, and not shaming the individual, but really giving them the resources they need to be able to change the trajectory of their life and to generations to come.

0:27:01.7 DP: Yeah, those numbers about families in poverty, children in poverty are particularly stark. We talk about the poverty line, and in fact, I like to remind myself occasionally about what that line actually is. I just pulled it up here. The poverty line as defined by the feds, for a family group of four, including two children, in 2020 was $26,200 annually, and so for that many people to be earning below that, that’s a profound… It’s hard, especially right now with inflation the way it is, is really hard to imagine how one can lead a life at all with that, so it’s really great… We’ll definitely direct people to your data sheet in the notes. Chandra, I can’t wait to dig in, because you bring together so many people and so many organizations from all over the state, to do exactly what you just said, to bring community voice, to make sure that we’re really focusing on students, families and the people of Alabama. But before we get into all the networks that you convene, and the things that you do, I think that the history of Alabama is really interesting too, because you really started rooted in that poverty and poverty simulation space. Isn’t that right?

0:28:19.7 CS: That’s correct. So really, the foundation of this organization was really about elevating the voice of the people, it was about going throughout the state and doing civic engagement in various communities. And that’s what I love about this organization, that it is rooted in lifting the voice of the voiceless, understanding their situations, how do we bring attention and elevate it to make informed decisions instead of sitting in boardrooms and assuming… I like to call it assumicide, what the individuals need in those communities. And so we continue that today, it is no different now, we still… And even more value elevating the voice of what I like to call the unusual suspects. So we do this through, because of COVID, we had to go now doing this virtual, but we started doing what we call virtual poverty simulations.

0:29:13.4 CS: We have virtual break it down discussions, where we literally come together using the data sheet that’s sitting behind me, and the individuals that live in those communities will elevate what that data point looks like and means to them. We can see a low percentage for children being deprived of food, and then we can see maybe a high number of single family homes led by women, but we need to understand what that looks like in action, and that’s what those break it down discussions are for. When we go into these communities and really hearing from them, and I have to be honest, it’s really profound to hear and to change the narrative that these aren’t lazy people, these aren’t individuals who do not want to work, these are individuals who are victims of circumstances, and I’ll give you an example, if I’m a female, single female leading the household of children, childcare is very expensive, but if I take a job that gives me a raise, and the raise is just enough to take away the supports I get for childcare.

0:30:24.9 CS: And now I happen to pay for childcare out of my pocket, and no longer get the subsidy, well, you just put me further in poverty. And so how do I make the decision of taking the job or not taking the job? And so these are the type of things we have to elevate to our policy makers, so they can understand, yes, there was a job opportunity for that female, but it was going to just really dampen and deepen her situation of poverty and not elevate her out of it. Those are the type of things that we know the break it down discussions elevate, and then of course, the virtual poverty simulations, it’s really about building empathy amongst our leaders and our elected officials across the state, so they too can walk in the shoes and understand the very difficult decisions that families have to make, the difference between, if I get a flat tire, can I afford the tire or do I just pay someone to take me to work? If my child gets sick, can I afford to miss two days of work? Or, how do I make these decisions, and how they impact their monthly income in their household.

0:31:32.9 CS: And I’ll be honest Dakota, I have just failed every time at the virtual poverty simulation, it is very… Those situations that you have to face, and the decisions you have to make are difficult, I haven’t made it past day 13 before my bank account was wiped out, and these are real circumstances that families across our state are facing every day.

0:31:55.8 DP: Yeah, and Chandra just… I think you just highlighted and underscored the critical importance that a state level network like yours, that is an independent organization, that is a non-profit, that also brings together communities and people, as well as higher education institutions, as well as state organizations in philanthropy, you’re really the hub at that state level, because what you’re talking about, of course, is the benefits cliff of what we know about, the benefits cliff, of when we encourage people to go get that next job, to get that pay increase, because in the simple equation, more money should equal more sustainable living. But you’re right that there’s actually a giant cliff there between that, and I think it’s just so valuable to have independent voices like that, like yours and your colleagues at Alabama Possible in the conversation. Obviously, you already talked a little bit about some of the advocacy work, how you work with legislators and state agencies to help shape and understand and educate around the potential impacts of certain policy decisions, but it’s not like your shop is coming up with those things independently, you convene a lot of networks, right? Tell us a little bit more about some of the many networks you convene and programs that you operate.

0:33:12.7 CS: Sure, so I have to say, it’s an honor to really be a part of an organization that’s trusted, ’cause to me, to be a convener, the word trust has to exist in there. And Alabama Possible has truly established itself as that organization that can be trusted to let data drive the work of the networks that we convene and facilitate. One of those networks is the Alabama College Attainment Network, where we bring together a cross-sector of organizations across our state, that really focus on post-secondary access success, as well as workforce and talent development. And so that network alone, is a huge undertaking to making sure those various individuals that come together with sometimes different agendas, but… And the underscoring reason of why they’re together, and it’s really to focus on our state that has an attainment goal, and that goal is to have 500,000 highly skilled Alabamians to take advantage of our workforce by 2025. And so those individuals come together around that work, to understand where the gaps are in practice and policy, to really, really close those gaps, and be able to put things in place in our state. Individuals can up-skill themselves to take advantage, and be connected to the real careers that are here now and are coming. Another network that we lead is called our Higher Education Alliance, this is an alliance of two and four-year universities and colleges across our state.

0:34:45.4 CS: So here now we have a group of leaders from our higher learner institutions, who come together to really share some of the challenges they’re facing, based on that, every year they do a survey for us to give us an idea of the things they want to take on, challenges they’re facing, more expertise in areas that they need, and we find those individuals that nationally that really can bring in the expertise and help them close whatever gaps, whether it’s enrolment, retention, completion, learning more about how to work more with students that have some college, no degree, various topics, the degree mapping, whatever it may be, we help them connect themselves to the experts. But we also use that group for policy, and helping to advocate for… On students behalf. And so we’ve actually, this last year, did our first HEAL Day, with the Higher Education Alliance, and it was such a great success, so much so that we have been quoted on the floor by some of our congressmen because our leaders of HEA were able to elevate the voice of students. And it’s really helped around the vast work that we were leading, as well as trying to get the pail simplified, and so it really makes a difference to having their voice to be a part of it.

0:36:08.7 CS: One rural network I would like to mention that I’m super, super proud of, that we are very much trusted to lead, is the first in the nation, Alabama, if you didn’t know is the home of eight historically Black and predominantly Black community colleges. We literally have eight in our state and we don’t… They don’t have their own network, unlike the four-year institutions who have networks like Thurgood Marshalls at UNCF, and we thought, what an opportunity. And so in partnership with Complete College America as well as Lumina Foundation, we were able to say that our state now is part of a national network or historically Black and historically predominantly Black community colleges. And Alabama Possible, again, the word trust, has been trusted to convene that network for our state. Again, it sounds like a lot, but what I want to draw attention to is the connectivity to them all, it’s all about removing barriers to prosperity across our state. It may be done in various ways through various networks, but they’re all interconnected and interwoven into this one ecosystem that we’re strongly trying to establish across our state and connecting individuals and leaders to do the work that is needed to make sure Alabamians have all the resources they need. We want to be able to remove the word under-resourced in our state.

0:37:38.1 DP: It is a lot though. It is a lot of work. It’s a lot of partners. You’re convening communities all around the state of Alabama, as well as institutions, and all these other folks. And Chandra, remind me, how many staff members do you have?

0:37:51.1 CS: Oh, we have a small but mighty team of five, so… [chuckle]

0:37:55.8 DP: Yeah. I mean, the fact that you are doing all this work with a team of five, I think is just further evidence of the importance of these kinds of networks, of your kind of network. And quite frankly, the efficiency because when you do have a smaller team now granted, let me be really clear, I personally would advocate for you to get more staff, of course. Anyone who’s listening, yes Chandra needs staff. This is… You are one of the hardest-working people I know. That said, I do think that there’s advantages to having that kind of lean organization, because that’s one of the ways that you remain very authentic to student voice to institutions’ voice because it really has to come from the partners, you’re convening. The solutions, the ideas, the feedback that you’re collecting, and elevating, has to come from those sources. Because it’s not like you have a shop of 40 analysts sitting here crunching numbers and coming up with policy recommendations.

0:38:57.7 DP: And I think that’s just such an authentic model for a lot of states to learn from. And Chandra I just wanna ask you about what other states might learn from your organization from Alabama Possible. I was just on the phone yesterday, with an organization that ran a national RFP, and, national initiatives, rather by the public sector, or by private philanthropy, they typically have a hard time working with folks in the south. And this one person was describing to me, “Yeah, we really tried to do direct outreach in a lot of southern states, but we had almost no applications or none at all.” You though, in Alabama provide a huge infrastructure for someone who wants to… And a national initiative, who wants to plug in. What do you advise other sister states around you, other neighboring states, as they’re considering how to take what you’re doing and make it work in their own context?

0:40:00.2 CS: Again, I know, it sounds a little mundane at this point. But again, the word trust, I cannot emphasize that enough. And that begins to me with doing the hard work first. Really bringing together, always like to say, sometimes you don’t want the SOB in the room that always disrupts your meeting that always feels like they come up with an agenda. But that is the individual, you absolutely have to engage as well. And so you have to realize that you do the hard work first, bringing everyone’s voice together, and then give them their voice back to them in some form of document and action. And I think that’s where a lot of people may sometimes skip that step, they wanna go right into, “I wanna collaborate on a grant, I want to collaborate on this initiative,” but if the trust isn’t in the room around that grant and before you even begin that initiative, you’re gonna get a lot of pushback, or people just don’t show up at all, because they’re not clear on, one, their role and how it aligns with your organization. Because it’s always gonna feel like your organization is leading the work and compare it to being your organization, is facilitating the work. You want to be able to be seen as someone that’s facilitating that’s convening. That’s a backbone, not someone that’s wrangling and strong forcing other individuals to fit within the confinements of your work.

0:41:26.3 CS: And I think, again, that’s just about doing the heavy lifting on the front end of building trust. And to me, the way you do that, you really have to show that you’re an organization that not only push together, what I call pressure, but you also provide support. And what I mean by that, so say there’s a… Let’s talk about the past, but let’s just use that as an example, that’s an easy one. So we know that it’s important for families and students across our state to complete the FAFSA, and we understand why. But we have to put the pressure on for leaders across the state to make a decision to say, “Yes, it’s important. And how do we make sure individuals know it’s important and put something in place to elevate its influence.”

0:42:11.4 CS: So we advocated for FAFSA to be a part of the graduation senior checklist. Of course, it’s an opt-out waiver that accompanies that. But this was a way for us to put pressure on, to showing that how much money over $65 million being left on the table every year. That’s inexcusable when we know what our poverty numbers look like, and how many students could have taken advantage of that. But then you have to provide support. I provided the pressure on by advocating and showing the deficit that this is causing. But then we provide support that I’ve been saying, “Okay, we’ve elevated the issue, we elevated the gap. Here’s what our organization is willing to do to support that. We’re gonna train all the counselors across our state on the importance of the FAFSA, the actual application itself so they can support their families and our students to complete it.” Giving them resources so they don’t have to think it up and recreate the wheel. Giving them toolkits webinars, whatever it is they need, ’cause they are on the frontlines of this with the families.

0:43:15.6 CS: And so again, I think as an organization, no matter what state you’re in, you have to be seen as that group that provides pressure and support. So you may talk it, but you also walk it and are seen in a way that you can be trusted, that you’re not only gonna elevate a pain point, but you’re also gonna provide some form of a solution, or support to that pain point. So when you bring others together, they already know Alabama Possible is not just casting blame. They’re not just elevating the bad data, but they’re also coming in and sharing their role and accountability and responsibility to that pain point. And I think that’s a very important step that a lot of organizations sometimes skip, and just think, “Oh, we found this amazing RFP, let’s bring people together.” But if their trust isn’t in the room, and people don’t understand that we’re as a team, that it’s gonna be very hard to lift.

0:44:11.1 DP: Yeah, and Chandra, I love that you went further, you didn’t just say, “Oh, it comes down to trust.” When we read a lot of evaluations and thought pieces around collaboration and they get chunked down into these like, “Oh, top five things,” kind of list that we do these days, which I have myself, I’ve written a bunch of those pieces, too. We’ll say it takes trust, and then like two sentences, but what you’ve said here is like, “Yeah, it takes trust, and then here’s how you build trust. You start with doing the hard work, you don’t just take the easy things first and hope to build those relationships. Then you collect voices, you reflect those voices back and say, “Hey, did we hear you correct? Is there anything you wanna change, nuance, are we getting this right?”

0:44:48.9 DP: And then you get to that action. And when you get to that action, you’re saying very clearly, “Yeah, some of that action is gonna be pressure. And it’s gonna be asking some of our stakeholders who are trusted partners, to maybe change some things that they might not necessarily want to change. But there’s also support and there’s also support that comes with that. Hey, you’re not gonna have to do this alone, we’re here together,” and I really appreciate that you broke down that… How you go about building trust, you, as you just talked about with the FASFA work, Alabama Possible has done some really great work around the FASFA work at the state policy level, as well as the community regional level. But I know there’s a lot of other pressing issues that you and your colleagues at Alabama Possible are focused on. Bring us into your context. What are you working on these days?

0:45:41.3 CS: Well, I’ll stick with the policy side first. So they’re here in our state. We have this post-secondary attainment goal, but like I mentioned earlier, with 500,000 and up-skill credential, Alabamians by 2025. Now, a lot of focus have been given on what… I don’t like labels, but we’ll go with it for today of traditional students. Those who are transitioning from high school to college. But that is not gonna get us to the 500,000 by 2025. That’s more of your sustainable movement that is not your right now, how do we get these numbers up, how do we make our state more robust. So that means you need to give attention to your adult learners. Those who are looking to up-skill or re-skill themselves to take advantage of our workforce labor and that’s available in our state. But we then began to dive into the data of what are some college no-degree population looks like in our state, just to understand the landscape we were taking on. And we realized that they’re over 62,000 Alabamians across our state, have some college but no degrees. So at some point they started their pathway, but I always like to say that life got in the way, and so they could not complete. But then we began to dig deeper as to the why, they never came back, and we began to understand institutional debt and what that means and what that looks like for those individuals that likely they left behind fees that they couldn’t pay whatever institutional debt.

0:47:18.7 CS: We’re not talking about federal or loan, we’re talking about institutional debt, that literally can hold your transcript hostage where you can’t transfer it to another institution to continue your education. And so, now we’re working with a policy to be able to look across our state, how do we remove that financial barrier for that some college, no degree population where they can re-engage into a post-secondary pathway to get that credential, to get that degree. And so that policy would be, that would be the work going forward for our next year, for us, for our next legislation session. This year’s session has come to a close, but we’re now planting the seeds for that conversation. So far there has been great momentum around that narrative around having discussions around that topic of how do we create policy and/or practice to be able to remove that barrier for adults in our state. We’re looking at other institutions who have done it. So we’re looking for examples, like Wayne State has been a great exemplar of that work. But in Alabama, we’ve got to really come to a true decision about if we’re serious about reaching this goal, then we have to understand what adults are facing, and most of them are facing a debt that they left behind.

0:48:43.0 CS: I’ve got a chance to see it in action when we were able to do a pilot of seven institutions across our state who really started to re-engage adults by doing degree audits and bringing those adults back. And they were able to show us that the average debt was about $1500. We’re not talking about a grand amount of money that we could figure out how to forgive that debt and what we’re, how we’re, I would say, approaching this work… And we’re calling them the stranded workforce. Debt, this institutional debt is leaving them stranded from a workforce that is so within their reach. And so how do we as a state get serious about the business of giving these individuals an open door to walk through to get their credential and that degree. The institution wins and our workforce wins, if we figure out a way to put in a debt forgiveness policy and practice at our institutions across our state.

0:49:47.2 DP: That’s an awful lot of work, my friend. And really, really worthwhile. I can’t… You and I have been working together for so long, Chandra and I’ve learned just so much from you, you’ve been such a wonderful friend personally, and a colleague professionally. I really wanna make sure everyone checks out your great work, you just wrapped up a fantastic ALCAN conference with a lot of great sessions. I’m a little biased ’cause I presented there, but I think my session was the best… No, it was a really great…

0:50:18.7 CS: Of course. It was awesome.

0:50:19.9 DP: It was a really great conference. You have so much great data, and you also, Kila on your team, just runs an excellent podcast called ‘Break It Down.’ We’ll put that in the show notes and really encourage people to come in and check you out. But Chandra, I just wanna say thank you so much for all the work you do in Alabama and for hopping on and sharing a little bit about what you do and your priorities for the state.

0:50:44.3 CS: Well, listen Dakota, the sentiment goes both ways, you have been such an amazing thought partner and friend in this work, I have grown tremendously because of our friendship. So thank you and I can’t say thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to share the work of Alabama Possible that many may not even heard of or know about anf so I appreciate you for your friendship and just being able to work with you every chance I get, thank you so much.

0:51:09.7 DP: Thank you. Everyone, go check out Chandra Scott, Alabama Possible. Chandra, thank you so much for spending your morning with us today.

0:51:16.1 CS: It was my pleasure. A great way to start my day.

0:51:21.8 DP: Everyone, welcome back. Joining me now is Laura Winter, the executive director of the Missouri College and Career Attainment Network. Laura, thanks so much for spending some time with me today.

0:51:33.7 Laura Winter: Thanks for inviting me, Dakota. I’m excited to be here.

0:51:36.0 DP: Yeah, always a pleasure to chat with you, connect to you. Again, another long time partner, and I’m excited because you do so much in Missouri and you have so much going on that I think folks are gonna be really interested in learning more about you and your work and all of your partners. Why don’t you just get us started and talk to us about what exactly is MOCAN.

0:52:02.0 LW: Sure. Happy to. So I’m in good company with colleagues from other states on this program today, so excited to be here with Ryan and Chandra and with you. I learn so much from each of you every time that we’re together. And so let me just tell you a little bit about who MOCAN is and what we’re trying to do here in Missouri. MOCAN stands for the Missouri College and Career Attainment Network, but you can see why we go by MOCAN kind of a mouthful… And we’re relatively new. We formed in January as a result of a merger of two organizations, the Missouri College Access Network and St. Louis Graduates. And St. Louis Graduates is the organization that I come from and have been engaged with for about 10 years. And St. Louis graduates is how I know you. We were a talent hub and part of the Community Partnerships for attainment, and over the dozen or so years that St. Louis Graduates existed, we had our own trajectory of growth and evolution.

0:53:09.5 LW: We started as a network of college access non-profit organizations, and then about midway through our history became part of the Community Partnership for Attainment and really started focusing more intentionally on attainment and completion for students. And our evolution also took a turn in terms of how we think about the students that we are supporting, and so St. Louis Graduates initially was thinking students from low income backgrounds, first generation students, and as we evolved, realized that racial equity needed to be front and center in our work and focus specifically on Black students for whom there are significant gaps in the St. Louis area. So as St. Louis Graduates evolved, our work became increasingly state-wide. Particularly as our talent hub work launched and we started partnering with higher ed institutions, we thought about it in terms of which institutions St. Louis area students were attending. And looked at those that were most successful in supporting those students through to completion and created a state-wide network that really reached beyond and extended beyond St. Louis.

0:54:26.3 LW: And then with the pandemic, our work became even more state-wide, and I can talk about that if you want. But at the same time, Missouri College Access Network had come online, and I was part of the group that helped launch it three years ago, but we’re still trying to figure out where it fit into the landscape. And so in February of last year, the woman who was the executive director, Francine Pratt, she’d been part of the Community Partnerships for attainment in Springfield, Missouri, announced that she wanted to retire and that opened up a conversation about, “Is this the time to think about whether these two organizations could collaborate or even merge.” And started on a six, nine month path of that conversation with our leadership, and then obviously ultimately decided that the best interest for Missouri students and for both organizations was to unite under one umbrella. So that is the history of the Missouri College and Career Attainment Network. And our network has been in place for three and a half months and… Really look forward to where we’re going.

0:55:35.6 DP: Yeah, I love that story. We heard from Ryan earlier that in Michigan, he views certainly as part of his organization and role, being there for students, and it’s all about the student really. Yes, they’re bringing together these multiple stakeholders, higher ed and state agencies, and all the philanthropy and communities and LCANs and all those people, but really they’re focused on the voice of students. And I think that’s such an interesting story because your work in St. Louis, what I heard you say was, when we looked at what it meant to really support and follow our students, we had to follow them where they were going. And if that means that they left St. Louis Metro, to go to another institution in another part of the state, we are still responsible for their success and you follow them. I think that’s such an interesting story for regional and metro-based organizations to think about what it means to grow and what drives that growth.

0:56:38.0 LW: Yeah, and that really, it was a huge pivot for St. Louis graduates because not only were we changing from thinking about college access, but to students success once enrolled because affordability has been the biggest barrier persistently. Many of our organizations and in our network, we’re really focused on affordability issues and on scholarships, and we recognized that we needed to start thinking about students graduating with less debt, not just getting into school, but are we successfully helping them, supporting them, giving them what they need to graduate with less debt. And so we commissioned some research actually called Degrees with Less Debt, it’s is the website for that, for our reports and some videos that we did, but really kind of reached into those institutions that were enrolling our students and looked at the data as the first phase of doing some qualitative research to interview the students at those campuses and to interview the leaders on those campuses and find out what they were doing that was really helping their students succeed, and then being able to bring it back to the broader network.

0:57:52.1 DP: Yeah, I can’t wait to dig into it a little bit more about… You have a series of initiatives, you have a series of networks, including the Postsecondary Equity Network, but before we get into that, we know that every state is different. Some states have higher education coordinating boards or COs, other states don’t. Some states have integrated workforce in Higher Education offices, some states don’t. It’s a different tapestry. What uniquely, what unique role does MOCAN play within that broader state context, knowing that there are other state players and agencies that clearly you’re working together and collaborating with, but you have a unique role to play.

0:58:38.2 LW: We do. And as you had pointed out, every state landscape is a little different, isn’t it? So here in Missouri, we have a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that is separate from our Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development. So actually, just as the pandemic was coming under way, our department of higher education and then the Workforce Development department of our Department of Economic Development merged, it was a huge undertaking here in our state, but really reflects this desire to make sure that students are pursuing post-secondary education to a specific end, and making sure that they have the training and the education and the credential that’s gonna serve them in terms of workforce needs as well, and so… The state can do some things, obviously in terms of policy making, the funding of institutions and scholarship support for students, and we can align with that in ways that they can’t. And in fact, we do a really nice job so far in our history of working to collaboratively, the Commissioner for Higher Education and Workforce Development is on the board of MOCAN. And there are places where they are leading in some spaces and places where they are supporting our work, so as an example, the State Department has created an adult learners network focused on strategies to support adult learners specifically.

1:00:06.0 LW: In that case, they’re leading and I’m a member of that network and MOCAN is doing some work to support what they’re doing. Conversely, the Postsecondary Equity Network, which is focused on racial and socio-economic equity in our institutions, is led by MOCAN and members of the department are involved in network that work.

1:00:26.1 DP: Yeah, so clearly fitting in and filling in some key gaps, and one of the things that we’ve talked about here is the ability of being a neutral organization, someone who can be just about students or someone who at least doesn’t have an agenda hidden or otherwise to pursue this work, and I think that comes through. I’ve personally joined many of the Postsecondary Equity Network meetings, the PEN meetings, and I’ve found them incredibly useful and engaging. Talk to us little bit about that, ’cause I think it’s a very unique approach that other state networks that are trying to advance equity, particularly at the institutional level, but through a networked approach, might wanna learn from. What is PEN? What do you guys do?

1:01:10.0 LW: Yeah. The idea… PEN is actually for us kind of an advocacy initiative, if you will, because the way we see advocacy is that public policy change really follows Institutional Transformation, and if we can work with our higher ed institutions to think deeply about racial equity and socio-economic equity, about all of the things that need to happen in order for the outcomes to no longer be predictable by race and socioeconomic status, and if we can get some of those changes happening at the institutional level in a state like Missouri, that’s the Show-Me state, that will start to make the case to policy makers about broader policy that we might enact, and so the Postsecondary Equity Network really is the next evolution of our talent hub work. For us, that was a collaboration with five higher ed institutions that were all four-year institutions. PEN has 16 institutions, including two and four year, and we’re gonna start opening it up with technical schools as well, and the idea behind PEN is that MOCAN can be like a push and a pull, if you will, we will pull our colleagues into conversations, into professional development, into looking clearly at their disaggregated data and adopting the equity-mindedness framework that PEN espouses.

1:02:35.0 LW: So for those who may not be familiar with that, a good primer is From Equity Talk To Equity Walk by Dr. Estela Bensimon and Dr. Tia McNair and others, and it’s kind of a playbook for how to embed equity in higher education, and really… Our role is to make sure that we’re providing the technical assistance and the support and the safe space to really talk about what’s working and what’s not working, and building relationships across institutional colleagues. We also ask them to engage their students in that conversation, and we think that really relates to the second piece that MOCAN can do, which is the kind of a push, which is holding institutions accountable for the change that they say they wanna make, and when you bring students into the conversation, they’ll tell you really quickly if something is working or not working. And we feel that they are the experts in the room. We may have gone to college at some point in time, but it’s been years ago, and our experience is no longer valid, we need to know what the experience is of our students today, and when we’re talking about racial equity, we really specifically need to hear from our Black and Brown students, so we invite them into our conversations, we require them to be part of our Postsecondary Equity Network teams and encourage their engagement in policy making at the institutional level.

1:03:54.9 DP: Yeah, if I could just underline two things that you’ve said, just really stick with me. One is where why you started, which is saying this is an advocacy move that public policy change will follow institutional change that… I’m a firm believer in that, that when we go in and just try to change policy first, we tend to have too many implementation, too many implementation challenges. The thought that there is such a thing as proactive policy is kind of fictitious. All policy is reactive, and I love that you’re taking that approach and actually embedding it into your methodology and like the Show-Me State bit, I mean, that’s exactly right and complete resonates with the last episode we did with Commissioner Santiago from Massachusetts who said, “Yeah, our equity agenda at a state level for the state’s Higher Education Commission came in part from looking at institutions in our state that were already doing this work, and we asked how can we better support what they’re doing throughout the whole state through public policy.”

1:05:00.7 DP: So I just… I love to underscore that, and I’ll just say too, I was gonna ask you about the student voice piece, ’cause I think you guys do it so well. When I’m on your meetings, here you are, you have multiple higher education institutions in the same room, Vice Provosts, Vice Presidents, directors of key areas of the institution, and students are there, and it’s not a one-time student panel, It’s not a… We’re gonna have this one conversation once and put together a report, it’s every month, a regular occurrence, a regular interaction, there’s so many relationships that get built that the students legitimately are not only encouraged and welcomed authentically, but also heard authentically by these institutional leaders and have the chance to actually travel some distance together, and I just think that’s such an important feature when it comes to collecting student voice, which we too often do in these kind of episodic ways.

1:06:00.6 LW: Yeah, it’s something that we really figured out in the history of St. Louis graduates, and initially our work honestly, and from a policy perspective, was on the state policy, specifically around state scholarships and things, and we did what many do, right? We punctuated our testimony with student voice and things like that, and other colleagues are the ones who honestly help me transform my thinking in the space, and that if we’re gonna be authentic about this, who’s the policy for? And we need to make sure the people that we’re talking about are front and center in helping shape the agenda in the first place, not punctuating the perspective. And then you brought up your last podcast, Massachusetts, I think, is a learning ground for all of us. I am so impressed with how equity as front and center is the goal of their higher education policy in that state. And I really look forward to learning more about what they’re doing as well.

1:06:55.0 DP: Yeah, I’m glad you bring that up, I mean, it’s funny, you and I are in the same spaces and we’re constantly having conversations about equity, and how do we become more equitable, how do we create more equitable systems? And it’s easy to always boil the world down into two camps, but it is very clear sometimes when you look at a network or a partnership or an organization or whatever the unit is, and say, “This is a place that’s still talking about equity, including it into their mission statements and visions, but are still trying to figure out how to do it well and how to do it right.” And then there are folks and networks and organizations and leaders that I think have dove in and said, “Well, we’re gonna try and iterate and learn and fail fast and really figured out, and I would put you all up right up next to Massachusetts, quite frankly, I mean, really… I’m such a huge fan of PEN and all the work that you’re doing. Speaking of which, I know you’ve already talked a little bit about Degrees With Less Debt, well, we’ll be sure to put that in the show notes and the financial pieces of it, you’ve talked about some of the equity work. As you’re looking state-wide, what are some of the pressing issues that you and your colleagues in your network are gonna be pursuing?

1:08:13.8 LW: That is a great question, and thank you for the compliments of PEN. I feel like PEN is still in its adolescence, there’s so much more we need to do, right. I think we grew really quickly and now we’re kind of figuring out where to go next, but I did actually have a conversation recently with colleagues at the University Innovation Alliance and their Black Student Success Initiative, which in many ways parallels PEN, and they’re struggling with some of the same issues, which I guess in a way it makes me feel like we’re all in this together, right? So… But the big issues that we’re thinking about, I think are the same ones everybody’s thinking about, which is how do we support students most effectively, and a couple of things that come to mind relate to this survey that just came out this week from Luna and Gala, which said that students still see the value in postsecondary education, but stress and affordability are barriers that they’re facing, an interesting finding was that the greatest support for enrolling if you’re not currently enrolled was among Black students, but the greatest risk of students dropping out was also among black students, which tells me that they see the value in postsecondary education, but once enrolled they’re not always seeing that it’s a place for them and they don’t have the support that they need, and that’s why PEN exists, right? We need to do more.

1:09:34.7 LW: So I think two things that we really need to work on is embedding equity front and center in how we do the work with students, in how we advise them, in the supports we provide. Stress is… And stress is a huge problem right now. What kind of mental health are we providing to students, is it accessible? Is it culturally relevant? Some of the data we collect within PEN is how many counselors are available to students, and of those, how many are counselors of color who students might feel more comfortable going to speak with and starting to build out our strategies from that disaggregated data, and then making sure students have what they need. There’s some great examples of things that possibly can be done, like some institutions are doing this peer outreach model, I think there are some things there that we can still build off of. And then the second piece is around purpose and making sure that students really are connecting their courses and their majors and their field of study to what it is they wanna do post-graduation, and are we providing the coaching and the advising from the beginning of when they apply and are accepted all the way through their experience, so that they graduate with a sense of what they wanna do and that they’ve gotten the education that is gonna serve them well.

1:10:56.0 DP: Well, you certainly have your plate full, and Laura, I just wanna say thank you for coming on today to talk a little bit about the great work you’re doing, and thank you to all your colleagues. One of the other things I’ve just appreciated you about as a friend and as a colleague in the space is you’ve always been very open, any time that I talked to another community or state who was looking to learn or something, I can always say, “Hey, Laura”, and you’re like, “Yeah, invite them to the meeting. Have them sit in.” You all are very, very open, and I think that speaks a lot. It speaks a lot to the ethos, your process and approach, and I just wanna say thank you for all the great work you’re doing on behalf of Missouri students, and also for sharing a little bit more today, and I hope people do check you out and your work out, because I think we all have a lot to learn from each other. You’re exactly right, there are so many people and organizations big and small that are all in the same stage of the process, and we can certainly learn a lot from each other just by sharing openly, “Hey, here’s how we get stuck, and here’s how we get unstuck.”

1:12:04.7 LW: Yeah, absolutely. The whole point is we value education and we believe it transforms lives. Well, we have to learn from each other as well, so essentially we’re all one big learning community, and so I always appreciate, Dakota, that you are connecting me to others as well. That’s really the trajectory of how we got this far, is because we are a part of your work at Lumina and Talent Hubs, and so, just thank you for the opportunity today and always.

1:12:27.8 DP: Yeah, well, Laura I can’t wait to catch up again, I can’t wait for the next PEN meeting, and I can’t wait to keep talking to you, so I’ll let you get back. I’m sure you have a busy day. But thank you so much for joining us today.

1:12:39.5 LW: Alright, thanks so much Dakota. Have a good day.

1:12:42.1 DP: You too.


1:12:44.8 DP: Every state is different, and yet some things are common among these successful state-level networks, they focus on filling gaps between organizations in the Education and Workforce System, they provide authentic and independent advocacy focused on students and families while coordinating action and resources among dozens of partners. They also build trust among leaders and practitioners across systems throughout their state. Our guest today also hinted at a key point, collaboration doesn’t just happen, effective collaboration requires support and leadership from an intermediary organization, it requires structures like what their networks provide to convene people and to take action, and it requires a clear process or methodology that is facilitated by a trusted partner. Building this trust does not come easily, nor can it be achieved through a legislative authority, political power or financial capital. Trust comes from working together to pursue a common vision and can only be built by those who champion authentic and equitable student success. Well, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for being with us. Our show is produced by Jacob Mann, John Strauss and me Dakota Pawlicki, with support from Mark Allen, Matthew Jenkins, Amy Bartner, and the team at Site Strategics.

1:14:01.2 DP: Well Done Marketing, supports the promotion of our show, Debra Humphreys and Kevin Corcoran provide leadership for Lumina’s strategic engagement efforts. Please be sure to subscribe and rate our show wherever you get your podcast. If you have a comment or an idea for a show or an episode reach us at, or reach me on Twitter @dakotapawlicki. Thank you so much for being with us and we’ll be sure to see next time.