Florida’s Rise to 55 Initiative: Engaging State, Regional, and Local Communities in Discussions of Educational Attainment

America faces an urgent and growing need for talent, specifically among adults 25 to 64 with postsecondary degrees or credentials qualified to fill high-wage, high-skill job openings anticipated by 2025. Florida’s Higher Education Coordinating Council (HECC), a council with representation from all sectors of higher education, K-12, and business/industry leaders that helps facilitate coordination between educational systems and workforce needs, understands that the most powerful indicator of economic development and healthy communities is educational attainment, and is committed to ensuring Florida has the talent needed to meet the growing economy and population. On November 28, 2016, the council approved a motion to establish a statewide attainment goal of 55 percent to be reached by the year 2025 (Florida is currently at 48.3 percent, including a 7 percent estimate for high-quality workforce degrees from Lumina Foundation’s Stronger Nation Report).

Following adoption of the attainment goal, Lumina Foundation awarded the Florida College System Foundation, on behalf of HECC, with $100,000 under its Attainment Challenge Grant program that is designed to develop and implement evidence-based policies to improve student success, close equity gaps, and reach a robust postsecondary attainment goal. In addition to the Lumina Foundation grant, the Helios Education Foundation awarded an additional $100,000 through the Helios Florida Partnership for Attainment Match Grant to support the council’s attainment efforts.

To build stakeholder support networks and identify champions to increase educational attainment and its importance for the State of Florida, the council adopted four strategies to conduct this work: 1) research, 2) statewide convenings, 3) regional convenings, and 4) communications and outreach (see Figure 1). The efforts of these activities culminated in the online Rise to 55 Toolkit for Increasing Educational Attainment, a compilation of materials to assist leaders (representing areas such as K-12, higher education, nonprofit, philanthropy, local government, and business) in launching, strengthening and deepening local, regional, and statewide attainment efforts. The toolkit features materials created and used by the Higher Education Coordinating Council and partners through Attainment Completion Grants funded by Lumina Foundation, Helios Education Foundation, and CareerSource Florida. The toolkit is also supplemented by relevant resources from the Florida College Access Network and other organizations, where appropriate.

Figure 1. HECC Strategies to Increase Attainment



The goal of the research strategy was to make the case for increasing attainment in Florida and solidify Florida’s attainment goal. The research garnered in this strategy has been used to inform publications that will help regional stakeholders understand their current localized status while also serving as the catalyst points for conversations about best practices that may need to be employed to improve educational attainment. Also, an attainment projections model was developed that allows users to estimate the impact of adjustments/improvements in key ratios on attainment, including percentage of population completing high school, percentage of HS graduates going to postsecondary, public/private share of postsecondary, and percentage of postsecondary entrants who complete.


Statewide Convenings

The goals of the statewide convening strategy were to educate, make a case for increasing attainment, and gain buy-in from key education stakeholders from K-12 through postsecondary. The intent was that convening participants would champion attainment in their local stakeholder’s groups and participate, where appropriate, in regional convenings and strategy sessions around attainment. Though increasing attainment requires more than just looking at the education pipeline, it is imperative to collaborate with the districts and institutions to increase both the number of credentials and pathways to quality credentials to meet the attainment goal.


Regional Convenings

The goals of this strategy were to educate, make the case for increasing attainment, and gain buy-in from cross-sector education and business leaders across the state. This activity was meant to broaden the attainment conversation beyond the education sphere and fully engage the community voice by collaborating with existing organizations across the state such as the Florida College Access Network and the local college access networks, Florida Philanthropic Network, Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Council of 100. The intent was that these meetings would serve as a catalyst to spark local momentum around attainment and engage with partner organizations, like the Florida College Access Network, to develop work plans to increase attainment.


Communications and Outreach

The Florida College System Foundation, on behalf of HECC, contracted with a communications firm to produce a marketing strategy and materials to support outreach activities, convenings, and local work- plan efforts. The “Rise to 55” logo and templates for publications were developed to communicate information and activities of the attainment work. A template for invitations and meeting packets were developed. These templates are included in the online toolkit for increasing educational attainment so other regions may adopt and adapt them, based on local needs. The firm also coordinated the issuance of press releases and media outreach for statewide and regional convenings to engage communities and raise awareness of Florida’s attainment goal.


Next Steps

Attainment Innovation Partnership Awards

HECC issued an Invitation to Apply for the Attainment Innovation Partnership Awards to recognize both existing partnerships that strengthen and deepen attainment work, as well as new partnerships looking for seed funding to kick off regional attainment efforts. Eleven regions across the state of Florida submitted proposals: six for existing partnerships and five for new partnerships. Criteria for awards included: strength of partner organizations and partnerships, strong demonstrated need, target population of hard-to-serve or returning adults, and innovative approach to closing attainment gaps. All 11 regions received awards ranging in size from $750 to $7,500. Recipients will be asked to attend a future HECC meeting to discuss progress on regional attainment efforts.

Regional Key Drivers and Work Plans

After the regional convenings, each group received a localized report focused on “Key Drivers of Educational Attainment” with next steps to increase attainment in their region and inclusive of the key takeaways from the conversation that occurred during the convening. Leaders across the state are encouraged to review the strategies and suggest action steps to prioritize activities as they consider starting or strengthening attainment efforts. Identifying additional strategies and action steps is encouraged to ensure the efforts meet the local needs. It is also beneficial to identify the timelines and expected outcomes for each action step.


Eric Godin is an Associate Vice President with the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. He was formerly the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research & Analytics for the Florida College System.

Is Statewide Data Worth the Cost?

It’s not unusual to hear calls for “better data” in the world of education, but better data are expensive. It takes a significant, sustained infusion of resources to determine what information will be collected, coordinate thousands of staff across hundreds of institutions to enter that information, build a database to store it, link it to other databases, and make it available to the public in an understandable way. Is better data worth all that time, trouble, and expense?

At Greater Texas Foundation, we believe the answer is yes. As a grantmaker focused on improving postsecondary preparation, access, persistence, and success for Texas students, we rely on our state’s robust longitudinal education data system to inform our work and support research that aligns with our mission. Read on for three examples of researchers who have made exceptional use of Texas statewide longitudinal data, which is accessible via one of the state’s three Education Research Centers (ERCs).

Dr. Kalena Cortes of Texas A&M University used statewide data to explore how admissions policies affect college application and enrollment patterns for low-income and minority students. She focused mainly on Texas’s “Top 10 Percent” policy, which guarantees automatic admission to any Texas public university for students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class. Dr. Cortes and her colleagues found that class-rank-based policies like Top 10 Percent significantly increased the representation of low-income and minority students at selective institutions, in part by helping high-performing students recognize they have the potential to succeed at universities they might not otherwise have considered. She found that non-academic factors played a significant role in students’ application and enrollment decisions: low-income students in her sample were more likely to attend schools closer to home, and minority students were more likely to select institutions where they were relatively better represented in the student body, or where their peers had a history of success. The rich data available through the ERC allowed Dr. Cortes to study students across multiple institutions and control for variables that would otherwise bias her models.

At The University of Texas at Dallas, Dr. Rodney Andrews used statewide data housed at the ERC at UT-Dallas to understand how two targeted recruitment programs offered by the state’s flagship institutions affected participants’ college enrollment, persistence, graduation, and earnings. He found that each program, which provided college information, mentoring, and financial aid to high-achieving low-income students, resulted in significant enrollment increases at both flagships, as well as an overall shift in aspirations from two-year to four-year schools. Importantly, Dr. Andrews also traced substantial differences between the long-term impacts of each program. The program with strong, significantly positive effects offered broader, more intensive, more academically-focused services to participants. This study yielded practical implications for decisionmakers interested in designing programs that help vulnerable students to and through college, and it would not have been possible without comprehensive statewide data.

Finally, Dr. James Pustejovsky of The University of Texas at Austin is partway through an evaluation of an innovative mathematics curriculum. A growing number of schools are adopting the Transition to College Mathematics (TCM) course, developed by UT-Austin’s Charles A. Dana Center, to help underprepared high school students develop a foundation for college-level math. Using statewide data, Dr. Pustejovsky will compare outcomes for TCM students with outcomes for students who participated in traditional high school coursework as well as those who participated in a different college preparatory math course. In both cases, he will use an equity lens, exploring how program effects vary by students’ income and race/ethnicity. Without a database containing variables as specific as the exact math courses taken by each student throughout high school, this critical evaluation would not be possible.

These are just three examples of the kinds of questions we can ask — and begin to answer — because our state went through the time, trouble, and expense of investing in “better data.” The benefits to our students will far outweigh the costs.

Allison Pennington is a Programs and Strategy Associate with the Greater Texas Foundation.

A Matter of Trust: Independent Institution Concerns Regarding Security, Privacy, and Data Governance in Postsecondary Data Systems

In March 2018, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) held a Community of Practice convening, “Integrating Independent Institutions in Postsecondary Data Systems,” in Denver, Colorado. Part of a larger project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the March meeting included participants from nine states, representing independent institutions and state data systems, to discuss the capacity and effective use of state postsecondary data systems and best practices for integrating independent institutions into such systems. One of the focus areas was to discuss broad concepts related to security, privacy, and data governance in postsecondary data systems and to identify the security, privacy, and data governance concerns inherent in integrating independent institutions in such systems, and suggest potential ways to resolve those concerns. Meeting participants participated in a workshop to help unpack some of these issues.


Speaking the Same Language

Participants acknowledged that one of the difficulties in addressing data governance, security, and privacy issues is that business owners and researchers may not be using the words data governance, security, and privacy in the same way that information security practitioners use those words. As part of a level-setting exercise, participants used a live polling tool to evaluate the IT definitions of these terms against their own experiences:

  • Data Governance: Executive management’s responsibility to provide strategic direction, oversight, and accountability for an organization’s use of information and information systems.
  • Information Security: The study and practice of protecting information. The main goal of information security is to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information.
  • Privacy: A person’s right to have control of his or her own personal data. The person has the right to specify how that identifiable data is collected, used, and shared.

For example, a little over half the participants in the room (55 percent) weren’t sure if the IT definition of data governance matched their own experiences, although most participants in the room were confident that data governance activities did need to include processes and procedures for accessing data for research and operational purposes. While talking about information security concepts, members of the audience reported that confidentiality (41 percent) was the most important information security concept in questions regarding participation in state data systems.


Identifying the Issues

Workshop participants brainstormed on the most important data governance, security, and privacy issues inherent in how independent institutions participate in postsecondary data systems.

The identified issues included:

  • How can we build in safeguards so that private institutions feel that their data, when contributed to state data systems, is secure, private, and the institution is protected from liability considerations?
  • Why are there not more similarities among the states in how they address data governance, security, and privacy issues?
  • Are there standard data elements that all states could agree on regarding data governance that would make participation more attractive to independent institutions?
  • Who should be the decision maker for data governance issues, the IT department or the business stakeholders?
  • How do states handle public information requests and are there any circumstances in which you would re-identify data?
  • How do you know your data is secure?
  • Who has access to what information?
  • How do we determine what is private and what is not?
  • How do we protect the privacy of our students in a longitudinal system; can we be sure they will not be re-identified or identifiable? How is data shared in response to research requests?
  • How do we address perceived mistrust by the public and still effectively use data to inform policymaking decisions?
  • Do students (and parents in some instances) trust institutions and state data systems with this data? Do they understand what the data are being used for?
  • Are opt-outs reasonable when independent institution reporting is not legally required; what do they do to the data set?
  • How do we provide context about our institutional programs when the data are shared for decision-making purposes?

From this list, meeting participants voted (see image below for the top-rated issue receiving votes from 24 of the 30 attendees) on the issues to identify three overarching issues of importance: (1) how to address perceived mistrust by the public and still effectively use data to inform policy-making decisions; (2) whether a set of data governance standards could be created and shared among the states as best practices; and (3) who has access to the data contained in state data systems?


Building Trust

During the discussion on these top three issues, one theme emerged: the importance of trust. This trust was enumerated in many different ways:

  • Trust between the student (and parent in some circumstances) and institution that providing data to the state data system is important and necessary; that data will be protected.
  • Trust between the independent institution and the state, to ensure that data will be protected and used in only the ways contemplated by signed data-sharing agreements.
  • Trust between the independent institutions, the state, and policymakers, that statistics provided by state data systems will be used in transparent ways with an institutional opportunity to provide context to any statistics that are shared.

Possible projects moving forward could include a model system of data governance or suggested model data-governance terms regarding how independent institutions can participate in state data systems; participation principles for independent institutions; or a model code of privacy conduct that both independent institutions and state data systems can refer to when questions of data access and reporting arise.

The sine qua non of postsecondary data system collection efforts is the ability to use, share, and rely upon (e.g., trust) the data included in such efforts.  Without the ability to effectively use the data, no one institution or entity can meet its goals. And our community’s shared goals, particularly the critical goals focused on student success, outcomes, and accessibility, will be challenging to realize. The implementation of information security and privacy practices and good data governance processes can go a long way toward establishing the trust needed in the postsecondary data system ecosystem.

Lisa Gesner is Content Manager, Marketing for EDUCAUSE.  Joanna Lyn Grama is Senior Consultant at Vantage Technology Consulting Group.