In 2010, Greater Texas Foundation approved $210,000 to support the replication and model building of College Forward, a college access and persistence program, in Goose Creek ISD and Aldine ISD in Harris County, Texas. Fast forward to 2014, and the foundation awarded $500,000 for College Forward’s Success Partnerships for a Greater Texas to support the development of efficient, effective, easily-administered models of College Forward's core programs for use by school districts, postsecondary institutions, and community based organizations across Texas - rural as well as urban.

In making funding decisions, Greater Texas Foundation considers long-term outcomes and potential benefits to the target populations beyond the grant period. Although still relatively early in implementation, this grantee is on track to create true institutional and systemic change across the state for the benefit of Texas students. It is a natural fit for the third grant featured in our annual report series “Craft of Grantmaking.”

Cameron Vanzura, Grant Manager, and Matt Evans,
Grant Writer, provided the following update on the work.

College Forward: Trajectory to Systemic Change

College Forward is an Austin-based college access and success program whose intensive, culturally-appropriate mentoring propels underserved students to collegiate success. With a goal of building and sharing effective solutions, we collaborate with other respected practitioners across Texas and the U.S. to combine and distill ‘best practices’ into highly-efficient program models, supported by a robust student information system that both drives student outcomes and yields critical data for longitudinal research. College Forward’s goal is to “put ourselves out of business by 2040” by developing, proving, and systematizing strong mentoring programs and interventions that support low-income and first-generation students throughout the higher education pathway.

Our ambitions weren’t always so grand. When the organization was founded in 2003, we only hoped to help a few underprivileged high school students get into college. More than 90% did, in fact, matriculate, but these first students quickly encountered new challenges on the road to degrees. We stayed with them, addressing challenges, devising solutions, and recording data along the way. Our early focus on the student experience, and utilization of human-centered design principles, fueled the development of innovative and highly-successful program models that address the full spectrum of academic, financial, and socio-emotional barriers too often encountered by underserved students.

In 2015-2016, College Forward will directly serve more than 6,500 students. Their record is one of outstanding success:

of high school students graduate from high school

99% apply and gain acceptance to colleges and universities

90% enter college within 12 months of high school graduation

81% enter four-year colleges and universities, and

45% of college students earn bachelor's degrees

We expect a randomized controlled trial, scheduled for launch in spring 2016, to validate our program effectiveness while also supporting the growing body of evidence that intensive, near-peer mentoring has a tremendous positive impact on postsecondary success.

In our first seven years, College Forward’s strategy included geographic expansion – growing each year to serve additional schools and cities - and the Greater Texas Foundation generously funded a successful expansion to the Gulf Coast region in 2010. But the Harris County expansion catalyzed a shift in focus; we realized that the magnitude of the higher education crisis - 9.1 million students drop out of college every year - called for a more radical plan. College Forward shifted our focus from expanding our organization to expanding only our impact.

With a new, more ambitious strategic plan, we launched our first initiative in 2013: Success Partnerships, an exciting cross-sector venture that enables colleges and universities to adopt College Forward’s mentoring expertise for their at-risk students by driving intermediate performance milestones that lead to postsecondary success. By fully integrating with a partnering institution’s staff, faculty, and administration, Success Partnerships strengthens existing retention strategies while also encouraging a powerful culture of student success. Success Partnership institutions have reported significant increases in our cohorts’ performance and persistence over matched control groups. In 2015-2016, College Forward will partner with postsecondary institutions across the state.

Developing shareable tools that support postsecondary success is also part of our strategy, and the results of that work have earned the acclaim of peers, advocates, and supporters. CoPilot, College Forward’s industry-leading student information system, gives postsecondary institutions, high school counselors, and other nonprofits a one-stop tool that contributes to student success. By providing a 360-degree perspective on every student’s academic, financial, and socio-emotional status, CoPilot enhances efficiency, outcomes, and data analysis. Through licensing partnerships, College Forward works with dozens of institutions and organizations that currently support more than 150,000 students across the U.S.

With guidance from Greater Texas Foundation, College Forward has more recently studied the needs of school districts and low-income students in rural Texas regions, working to create scalable, effective program models that can be easily and inexpensively administered and evaluated. Beginning fall 2015, in collaboration with Sul Ross State University, College Forward will work with Alpine ISD and Marfa ISD to begin building a “student success pipeline” to enhance educational outcomes across the region.

Ultimately, state and federal policy have the broadest impact on student success. Legislative action has serious implications for both students and institutions, whose concerns are too often the last to be considered. In collaboration with the Greater Texas Foundation and Educate Texas, College Forward has established an ongoing effort to connect underserved students with state legislators, senators, and legislative aides, with whom students share their personal stories and concerns. At the national level, College Forward is a charter member of America Forward, a legislative advocacy coalition founded by New Profit, Inc.

College Forward is committed to solving the problem. Nothing less.

In 2015 and beyond, with our Central Texas and Harris County operations as bases of experimentation and innovation, every initiative, project, and effort undertaken by College Forward will drive steadfastly toward that goal. Through relentless program improvement, a commitment to sharing knowledge and tools, and evidence-based advocacy, College Forward will contribute to a future in which every Texan can access and succeed in higher education.