At the core of any strong, district-level postsecondary access and success strategy are engaged leaders and an intentional grounding in data. Yet more than half of principals in the recent RAND study report having no access to data on their students’ postsecondary performance. With the increased attention on college enrollment and persistence due to the pandemic, there is a unique opportunity to engage school and district leaders around postsecondary data.

Accessing the data is only the first step. While it is helpful to know whether college enrollment went up or down for a cohort of students as a whole, it becomes even more actionable as you begin disaggregating data (by race/ethnicity, family income, ELL status, dual enrollment participation, etc.) to understand which students are in need of the most support. With this additional layer of data, schools can identify the highest-leverage opportunities for improvement. This analysis can be done within a district or school with a strong data team, or with outside support to conduct a more robust analysis. This outside support could be a university research partnership like the Chicago Consortium and Chicago Public Schools, consulting support from specialized firms who work with National Student Clearinghouse data regularly, or off the shelf solutions.

How does the strategy create more equitable access and opportunities?

Every school and district has a unique set of factors that contribute to their students’ postsecondary success or challenges. With student-level data in hand, schools and districts can break down their college enrollment, persistence, and completion data into segmented populations. For example, when reviewing college enrollment, a school might layer in measures for academic preparation (such as GPA) and socio-economic status. Through this layered analysis, a school might identify that their highest achieving, low-income students are not optimizing the state-grant program. They could then restructure their advising and communication supports for those students. In Michigan, Susan Dynarski used school records to identify low-income, college-ready students and inform them that they qualified for free tuition at the University of Michigan. The aid students received was the standard amount of aid for the school’s lower-income applicants, but students who received this communication were more than twice as likely to enroll at the university.

What outcomes or benefits are associated with the strategy?

What are the budget implications for implementing the strategy?

The cost of collecting and analyzing data makes up most of the budget. Hiring external consultants to run training that engage staff and support the school or district data team(s) to embed the data into their existing systems or data warehouse is advisable.

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What are the estimated costs for implementing the strategy?

  • NSC Data: $595 per high school (cost covers updated reports 3x a year)
  • Outside support to conduct initial analysis: $5,000 – $20,000; Price with most firms is dependent on the complexity of the evaluation.
  • District data infrastructure and training to enable staff to manage full-time moving forward: $2,000 – $50,000; Depending on size of the district, current capabilities of staff, etc.

How will the strategy limit significant recurring costs while ensuring long-term sustainability?

Districts can initially invest in the implementation of dashboards and data training. These upfront costs can assist districts as they build systems to support data capture and analysis. Once districts feel confident in their data systems, they can train other staff members and build data collection and/or cleaning into an existing position.

What is the anticipated timeline for launching the strategy?

The general timeline for launching this strategy is quick. The process for initial data evaluation and strategy should take no more than a few weeks for an experienced consultant or strong district data team who has previously worked with district data. Gaining student-level data from state and/or local sources may take more time. Districts who choose to use the National Student Clearinghouse may need to wait a few days to finalize a contract and data is returned within a week.

What internal and/or external capacity (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, training, etc.) is needed to launch the strategy? To monitor and sustain it?


  • Determine whether your school/district has the internal capacity to conduct the analysis or if you want to engage a partner to support.
  • Identify the staff member who will lead the work to engage counselors, teachers, and community support organizations in reviewing the outcomes and layering in the regional/community context that is necessary to best understand student outcomes.
  • Engage school counselors and college access support organizations, and leverage them as partners in using the college outcomes data and developing the strategies the district is employing. This will require the time of both the external partners and of the district staff member leading the coordination.

Monitor and Sustain

  • Assign an individual who is responsible for leading the work to review the data and engage stakeholders with each new set of updated data.
  • College enrollment, persistence, and completion goals are built into the goals of the high schools and school leadership – along with interim metrics and goals that are tracked through senior year.
District Level Postsecondary Strategy - Invest Forward
Allison Shelley for EDUimages
Indicators For Postsecondary Education Success - Invest Forward
Allison Shelley for EDUimages

What are the first 3-5 steps to take to implement the strategy?

  1. Secure student-level postsecondary data, whether through NSC or another source.
  2. Identify prioritized metrics to capture and analyze (e.g. student-level FAFSA completion, college application information, and K-12 academic data points).
  3. Conduct initial analysis and engage school leadership and staff.
  4. Engage the community, especially college access support organizations, to bolster support and build capacity.
  5. Identify a group of students who the school plans to specifically target for increased support or a differentiated strategy to increase their enrollment for Fall 2021.

What are potential challenges for implementing the strategy?

  1. Challenge: Collecting student data can be difficult.
    • Solution: Schools can leverage stimulus funds to purchase data collection software, attain data from higher education institutions, and/or hire outside consultants to help collect data. They can build data collection systems into the school’s function to mitigate future costs.
  2. Challenge: Interpreting data is not intuitive.
    • Solution: Districts can receive data analysis training from outside organizations or build dashboards that are more intuitive for school leaders and staff.

What are models of schools, districts, and/or organizations that are successfully implementing this strategy?

  • Get2College in Mississippi highlights their strategy to engage district leaders in their NSC data and support program implementation.
  • The state of Illinois built disaggregated student data tracking metrics (including 9th grade on track, early college coursework, and graduation rates) into the school’s report card.
  • Tacoma Public Schools implemented a data tracking system and improved graduation rates by 23%. They now have a Director of Student Data Science and Analytics, who teaches other districts how to successfully track data.

What are some additional resources for districts/states interested in implementing this strategy?