Today, many young people in Bexar County still face significant barriers to enrolling in, and attaining, a postsecondary education. Disproportionately, it is marginalized student groups — students of color, students from low-income families — that are most likely to experience those barriers.
While it is clear that postsecondary education offers the greatest potential to alter the outcomes of young people and their communities, in 2020 only 50% of all young people graduating high school in Bexar County enrolled in a college, university or credential program after high school graduation.
Addressing those barriers is where UP Partnership’s Equitable Enrollment Collaborative (EEC) focuses their efforts.
The EEC supports the advancement of more equitable enrollment strategies for the young people in Bexar County.
Briana Hagelgans, Ed.D., UP Partnership’s Director of K12 and Postsecondary, the department that leads the EEC’s convenings said that “through EEC, leaders from two- and four- year higher educational institutions, representatives from Bexar County school districts and community based leaders work together to address the challenges to postsecondary enrollment,” in an effort to drive toward the Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s collective North Star goal of increasing the percentage of Bexar County High School graduates enrolling in a postsecondary degree or credential program to 70% by 2030.
“Together, we can work through barriers that students commonly face when navigating their transition into postsecondary,” Hagelgans added.
Initially started in 2021 as a joint initiative between Diplomás and My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, two of UP Partnership’s systems change networks, the EEC offered a space for secondary and postsecondary professionals to convene and begin building formal and actionable strategies to increase postsecondary enrollment and success for students of color — especially young men of color — and Dreamer students that would lead to a living-wage career and economic mobility.
During its first two years, the EEC supported local school districts, institutions of higher education and community based organizations in analyzing their internal data college application and enrollment data.
By tracking the number of students completing college applications and the number of students completing financial aid applications (FAFSA or TASFA), EEC members could see where gaps and barriers existed within their own organizations and begin the shift in policies and programs to systematically close those gaps and remove those barriers.
There were many successes during the initial work of the EEC including:
• One local school district identified lower college-going rates among its Emergent Bilingual students and launched a strategy to deliver college advising in multiple languages.• Another partner led “Senior Saturdays” to help young people and their families navigate FAFSA applications and they were also able to meet with enrollment advisors from a local higher education institution building cross-sector bridges to support student success. • One university partner hosted six mini-summits engaging a total of 309 students from four EEC school districts. These mini-summits contributed to the university’s enrollment of 254 Dreamer students for that fall semester.
According to Texas A&M University – San Antonio’s Executive Director of Student Success, who is a member of the EEC, the efforts were “[creating] the kind of environment where high school Dreamers can picture themselves [in college],” and the work being done plays an important role in building “a direct pipeline to higher education.”
In 2022, UP Partnership looked in depth at the EEC and realized that the focus of the collaborative needed to change in order to meet the Future Ready North Star enrollment goal. While institutions were successfully implementing changes to increase equitable enrollment, that existing model of work could not be scaled to its full potential across Bexar County.
As part of EEC’s evolution, UP Partnership actively garnered input from its partners on what the next phase of the EEC should look like in an effort to reach a collective equitable postsecondary enrollment strategy.After much discussion, it was decided that, moving forward, the EEC’s way of thinking would shift from “what we can change in our own institution” to “what can we change together across institutions.”
The EEC is now heavily responsible for scaling the Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s equity pillar of Access, which along with Healing and Voice, has been identified as the must HAVEs amongst Bexar County’s young people.
To do this, they are addressing three major barriers young people face to postsecondary enrollment in Bexar County. These barriers were identified in discussions with EEC partners on the next phase of scaling the collaborative’s work:
1: There is no clear and aligned definition of what “college readiness” is in Bexar County.
As community partners began coming together to advance collaborative postsecondary work, a pattern emerged of students not being adequately prepared for postsecondary opportunities because different institutions used different formal definitions of “college readiness.”
Local school districts refer to the definition of the Texas Education Agency, while institutions of higher education use the definition of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Those separate definitions are a major barrier to shared data measurement and strategic partnerships between secondary and postsecondary institutions.
To address this barrier, the EEC brought Future Ready community partners together in conversations that led to the adoption of three established K12 and higher education metrics of “college readiness” to support the building of a shared advising framework and curriculum in an effort to create alignment in practices and policies across community partners.
2: There is a lack of clarity around student pathways from K-12 to Postsecondary Education or Credential Training.
Through its work in Bexar County, the EEC holds the closest focus on the Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s North Star goal of reaching 70% postsecondary enrollment by 2030. To that end, the collaborative fosters partner-initiated policies and programs that secure pathways for all young people in the community to have access to postsecondary enrollment opportunities and success.
Direct admissions initiatives are one pathway for postsecondary enrollment and the groundwork for successful initiatives that provide access for Bexar County’s young people to get affordable two-year and four-year degrees. These opportunities are accessible through Alamo Colleges Foundation’s AlamoPROMISE, the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Bold Promise, both of the institutions’ Promise-to-Promise and Texas A&M – San Antonio’s Achiever Promise.
“What this work shows is that all community partners believe in graduating high school seniors in Bexar County as we help them move forward to postsecondary enrollment and success,” said one Future Ready partner at the Future Ready Bexar County Leadership Table held in July of this year.
3: There is a lack of alignment on how partners track and integrate data about postsecondary barriers and readiness.
Data is a vital component to drive collaborative work forward but often, cross-sector partners either don’t have access to others’ data or the data collection, metrics, descriptions and use vary by individual organizations. The EEC is striving toward standardizing data and data collection so that community partners can access it in one central location.
The ultimate goal for collecting, analyzing and sharing data is a real-time data integration model that helps community partners identify early indicators of at-risk students, evaluate the effectiveness of programs and interventions both in and out of school and track college and career readiness and students’ engagement with community youth development organizations.
Initial work on this model began this past January with the EEC leading a discovery phase with six local school districts to identify the presence of college advisors and resources across high school grades 9-12. This phase revealed that the current college advising system — grades served, content and models — is not the same across Bexar County school districts. Identifying these inconsistencies has allowed partners to begin advancing strategies to address those existing gaps.
Additional work continued through a needs assessment of Future Ready partners around a shared problem — how to transition more students into postsecondary programs starting in high school that will lead to credentials of value.
This included landscape mapping for two different school districts that examined high-quality advising and support and explored career centered pathway programs, such as dual credit, advanced placement and/or college prep, that lead to a postsecondary or credential enrollment.
The results showed that Bexar County has a rich landscape of pathway programs, which were particularly notable across the community partners that participated in this assessment. It also yielded ways to improve existing pathway programs, with the community partners using that information to scale their work in Bexar County.
By working together in collaboration, the work of the Equitable Enrollment Collaborative strives to better the future for all young people in Bexar County and these tests of change are a continuation of cross-sector collaboration, through which our community can create more equitable access to postsecondary opportunities for our young people.
If your organization is ready to join in on the Future Ready movement, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information on how you can become a Future Ready partner.You can also follow our progress by signing up for our newsletter and following us on social media.