There’s a difference between having access to a college education and finding success in your college education. College access and success nonprofit Philadelphia Futures fights for the latter for underprivileged Philadelphia students, and it does it with data.
Thanks to a capacity-building grant from Pew Charitable Trusts, Executive Director Joan Mazzotti and her crew have been able to develop a benchmarking system that measures the level of success their scholars have from SAT prep through college graduation. That benchmarking framework, which sets indicators (outcomes) and ties them to targets (desired outcomes), has become the core of their organizational theory of change.
Mazzotti said Philadelphia Futures has complete data for one of its programs, Sponsor-A-Scholar, dating back to 1990.
“People either love [reading metrics] or their eyes completely glaze over,” Mazzotti said. Hate it or love it, the system helps Philadelphia Futures better manage its services. “If something’s not working we can tweak it and make it better. It also makes us transparent to our stakeholders. They know exactly what it is we’re trying to do and how we’re performing.”
Mazzotti used SAT prep as an example. The indicator would be the percentage of students who scored over 880 on the SAT, and the target would be 75 percent of students scoring over 880.
“Then we did a data use plan that defines the data collection method for each indicator,” Mazzotti said. Philadelphia Futures now has 104 of those indicators. “We just finished our second year of this. We collect and record the data and use it in our programming.”
For the record, students in Philadelphia Futures’ class of 2015 scored an average of 1040 on the SATs between math and critical reading.
Mazzotti said they were able to implement the system after receiving the capacity building grant from Pew a few years ago. The framework makes Philadelphia Futures’ challenging mission a little easier to tackle. Having data makes it easier to forge partnerships.
“We have formed strategic partnerships with a number of colleges in Pennsylvania. Those colleges not only provide very, very strong financial aid packages, but they work with us to make sure the students have the support services they need once they arrive on campus,” Mazzotti said.
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One third of Philadelphia Futures’ class of 2015 will be going to one of those partner schools next year. This is how Philadelphia Futures measures “success” over “access.”
“But it does not end until students finish college,” Mazzotti said. “That’s how our success is measured. Our ultimate data point is our college graduation rate.”
Over the past 25 years, 56 percent of the 1,307 students who have been in the Sponsor-A-Scholar program have graduated from college. The projected graduation rate for classes 2005 to 2011 is 71 percent — aspirational, Mazzotti said, but thanks to Philadelphia Futures’ meticulous obsession with data collection, the figure is grounded in realism.-30-
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