News: College Access & Success

Leveraging Partnership for Districtwide Postsecondary Advising with AchieveMpls

Wednesday, February 26, 2020  
Posted by: Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation
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In February, NCAN released “The Data That Matter and the Plans That Work: New Districtwide Approaches to Student Success Beyond High School,” a collection of case studies about five school districts and partner organizations participating in the To & Through Advising Challenge. These organizations’ “big ideas” center on changing postsecondary advising by incorporating fit and match in college selection, improving FAFSA completion, reducing summer melt, and using postsecondary outcomes data to inform practice. This post focuses on AchieveMpls in Minneapolis, Minnesota, whose big idea is leveraging the partnership of a college access program to provide districtwide support.

Read the full report, additional case studies, and other resources derived from the project here. NCAN would like to thank all of the To & Through Advising Challenge participants and coaches who contributed their insight and time to making this publication possible. NCAN is grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their support of the To & Through Advising Challenge.

The Big Idea

Leverage the partnership of a college access program to provide districtwide support.


Formed in 2002, AchieveMpls is a 501(c)(3) based in Minneapolis and is the strategic nonprofit partner of Minneapolis Public Schools. AchieveMpls’ staff of nearly 40 operates career and college centers in 11 Minneapolis and four Saint Paul public high schools, serving more than 15,000 students annually with career and postsecondary planning services. They also collaborate with the city of Minneapolis and other partners to administer the Step Up Youth Employment Program, which connects over 1,400 Minneapolis youth each year with work readiness training, paid internships, and career mentoring with over 200 employers. AchieveMpls also mobilizes hundreds of volunteers for high school career exploration events, hosts public education events to increase knowledge and engagement on issues impacting students and schools, manages Minneapolis Public Schools funds, administers over 60 college scholarships, and provides mini-grants for educators and classrooms.

Although NCAN has community-based members across the country working in concert with local school districts, few are as tightly tied as AchieveMpls and Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). “I think the value-add globally is that we provide professional staff for career and college centers that are embedded in 11 MPS high schools,” says Lauren Bloem, monitoring and evaluation manager at AchieveMpls. “Our staff are not district staff, so they build the capacity of school counseling teams to offer career and college readiness resources and guidance. Therefore MPS can support students in ways that some larger public high schools cannot.” AchieveMpls has a contract with the district that allows them to operate in the schools and access student data. AchieveMpls fundraises additionally for their own staff, so the district is able to get more staff capacity for their money than they would otherwise.

Bloem says that participating in the To & Through Advising Challenge offered a valuable framework for her organization’s career and college readiness work with MPS. “We felt more confident in pushing this work and this conversation forward in the district,” she says. “Most high schools nationally are not thinking about getting their students to college and don’t even know what their college enrollment rates are.”

AchieveMpls works hard to shift the conversation beyond high school graduation to the resources and support students need to succeed in college and careers. The organization coordinates with district counselors and college access network partners (including other local NCAN members), and also brings principals into the conversation about how to shift from thinking only about preparing students for postsecondary enrollment to thinking about postsecondary persistence and completion.

That conversation is not always easy. “We definitely get pushback when we talk about things like postsecondary institutions’ ‘fit’ for students. Because postsecondary completion rates tend to be correlated with selectivity, and selectivity tends to be correlated with ethnicity on campus, high school counselors are often concerned that they are sending students into institutions where they will feel isolated or underrepresented. We have to think about how we frame this,” says Bloem.
“Students need to consider all of their options. Every institution is going to have pros and cons. We’re not going to say to a student who wants to go to two-year institution, ‘Go to a liberal arts school!’ We are thinking about how to help more students make their best career and college choices.”

AchieveMpls also provides substantial training and technical assistance for both school counselors and their own school-based coordinators. Each month they host two team meetings (totaling four to six hours) that focus on college and career readiness professional development topics, including:

  • Data usage and analysis, for example, identifying strategic groups of students that need specific resources and guidance.
  • “Problems of practice,” in which staff help each other solve challenges that are common across school sites.
  • Strategic planning work on specific projects such as reducing summer melt.
  • Equity issues impacting specific subpopulations and ways to provide appropriate support.

AchieveMpls coordinators work closely with school counselors, and the organization’s program leaders help plan and attend those counselors’ monthly meetings. In the 2018-19 academic year, AchieveMpls also provided college and career readiness professional development for school counselors on topics like Estimated Postsecondary Completion Rates (EPSC), a school- and district-based measure of the completion rates for institutions to which students matriculate, and practical tools that help measure college graduation rates.

AchieveMpls also supports MPS schools through substantial data analysis. An MPS memorandum of understanding and data sharing agreement with AchieveMpls allow the organization to work in MPS schools and also access the district’s student data systems, like Naviance. This differentiates AchieveMpls from other community-based organizations serving the district that are not as fully integrated. Additionally, access to the district’s National Student Clearinghouse data allows AchieveMpls to create school and district profiles.

The AchieveMpls team is also working hard to demonstrate the usefulness of those data to school-based staff and helping those staff understand the aggregate college enrollment rate at their school. They maintain a year-over-year dashboard for comparisons of key metrics like FAFSA completion, postsecondary enrollment, and students’ utilization of school Career & College Centers. In the 2018-19 academic year, AchieveMpls created a more usable student-level file for school-based staff by merging demographic, college application, FAFSA completion, and other data (e.g., financial planning and senior planning surveys), which all live in separate databases. Now each MPS high school has a student-level list with these relevant variables that is updated twice monthly.

In 2019-20, the To & Through Advising Challenge spurred AchieveMpls to break out these school-level dashboards in a way that makes the data more formative rather than summative. “Learning that ‘we have disparities’ at the end of the year can be demoralizing for staff who need to know this information in the middle of the school year so that they can adjust practice, says Bloem. “We’ve added these data update reports to our team meetings to help staff understand how they can best use that information in real time.”

The value proposition of a program like AchieveMpls is clear. As a universal service provider, they work with every student and fulfill a critical career and college readiness role for the district. The next task is to translate and share their knowledge, skills, and services with district staff to empower them to become full partners in this work. “The most challenging part of this transition has been implementing things down to the school level,” says Bloem. “It’s one thing to agree that this is a good idea. It’s another thing to equip staff with the knowledge and resources they need to do the work. That requires a lot more coordination and resources. But we’re excited about this collaborative work for student success.”

Explore the full report to learn more about how other school districts and partner organizations are using big ideas and National Student Clearinghouse data to improve their students' postsecondary outcomes.