With the support of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, SRDC recently completed a study on the data-readiness of post-secondary (PSE) access and retention programs for lower-income youth, Aboriginals, and first-generation students.
The study found numerous examples of innovative access and retention programs for under-represented groups at Canadian post-secondary institutions. Equally impressive was the demonstrated commitment of institution staff and community partners, and institutional willingness to evolve so that students from all backgrounds can feel they belong on their campuses. The study findings indicate, however, that institutions likely do not have the data required to fully assess the effectiveness of their access and retention programs for under-represented students.
The findings point to three main considerations that should be of interest for all who wish to reduce the access gap. The first is that Transformative Institutions appear to be the most successful in promoting access for under-represented groups. In addition to developing and implementing innovative programs and strategies, they have a commitment to evaluating the impacts of these investments. The institutional vision and objectives are clearly articulated by leadership and communicated within the institution and to community partners.
A second consideration is to put in place A Purposeful and Coordinated Strategy, based on input from stakeholder groups and including elements of systematic data collection, standardized questions and centralized data collection. In the United States, the Education Trust has launched an ambitious project to close the access and completion gaps between low-income and minority students and other students. The initiative brings colleges together as they each work to achieve their own overall improvement targets, with agreement to use a common set of metrics to evaluate progress. In Canada, the first steps toward creating a similar national strategy might include the creation of a task force with membership from provincial/federal, national, PSE institutional and educational leaders whose purpose it would be to hold broad consulta¬tions to begin articulating a national data strategy.
A third area for consideration is to support Investment in Institutional Infrastructure. This would involve increased support for program delivery staff, who often have little time or human resource capacity to implement rigorous evaluations of program outcomes. Funding for a dedicated administrative position, or staff, within the institution is another way of building infrastructure to promote access and retention initiatives. The mandate of this position would be to coordinate the collection and dissemination of data both internally and externally, realize opportunities to access or link datasets to provide longitudinal data, encourage more rigorous program evaluation, and undertake strategic planning to address institution-specific access and retention challenges.