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Match for Success - Deliberate Data-Driven Touchstones

Using student data to match to peers and mentors for access, persistence and success.

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I was listening today to a college president answer a question about why more academically gifted or capable first generation and/or low income students are not pursuing Ivy League or ‘high ticket /big city’ college opportunities.

Financial aid or money support isn’t the only issue, he said referencing a number of students he had seen go to top notch schools on full scholarship but not do well. Often, he stated, students also need to be matched culturally as well.

A student’s access to higher educational opportunities are often most dependent on academic prowess and availability of financial aid. A bit of encouragement, timing and luck helps too!

For a student to be successful attending a university or college away from home takes a ‘village of support’ including guiding communication both before and once arriving on campus with both the student and their network of support (family, mentors, and, when the student chooses, a broader community to increase their confidence and comfort level.

This need is there for all students out of their normal cultural environment.

This cultural match is particularly crucial for low-income, first-generation, rural students who are academically astute but unsure of higher education opportunities 'away from home' due to lack of experiences and feeling 'like a fish out of water'. (Tyler’s Story)

For example: A lot of data is gleaned on students: grades, test scores, career and outside interests, even if they are early risers or messy or neat. And yet, when their roommate or hall group decides the weekend includes a ski trip or shopping or amusement park and our student has a hard time begging off without saying – Hey, I don’t have the money. It adds to the pressure of feeling they don’t really belong; that somebody got it wrong when they let them in or offered that scholarship. It is also comforting to hear an accent regionally close to their own once in a while without calling home.

What if….collecting all the ‘data’ on a student included a methodology for helping students identify ‘like me’ peer groups faster. It could also include mentoring connections with upper classmen, alumni, faculty or staff. This could be done by simple match or a guided conversation during the orientation or pre-arrival days and weeks or in the first few days after arrival of residential students. For commuting or online students the challenge to facilitate this conversation and interaction is harder but just as critical, sometimes more!

Yes, college (and all higher education opportunities) is a time to discover and interact with people of a vast cross section of culture, economic levels, backgrounds and points of view. This should be strongly encouraged and fostered. And, the confidence to open the door to new experience is easier with a touchstone who ‘gets you’ and encourages you to keep trying. They can be data-driven and engineered.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

This idea is focused on higher education institutions and educational support programs. By building deliberate pathways of common ground to support highways to success, data is used to assist students in cultural match with peers, mentors and alumni for persistence and team building for career preparation design and success.

This idea emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Assist in broadening the beginning pathway and the transition activities to wider experiences. Discussing how data can be used along the way to enhance the validity of support services.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Working with recent or about to be college bound high school graduates, we will assist students in exploring higher educational options on a broader than average range by assisting students in finding peers and mentors who 'have been where they were' and are making it work.

Tell us about your work experience:

I have worked throughout my career with primarily low-income rural areas focusing on youth opportunities in education, training and service opportunities with a variety of agencies from non-profit to governmental to both public and private education.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Terry Hosler

Thanks Bettina and Kate,

I have seen colleges who are recruiting from out of state have 'spotlight' sessions in a restaurant for students and parents who have applied.  It is primarily an information session that includes a meal.  My experience with these is that there is little opportunity in the particular venue (normally an hour or two in a restaurant) to meet very many other potential students. Perhaps the venue need to change?  Some families are drawn for the 'steak dinner' or they haven't been to that restaurant before.  

I am familiar with the Posse format and agree with the whole village idea is a sound one.  A metaphor I have used with other professionals about it is this:

In the American frontier - you would send a Scout, a single person with the skills they need to make it anywhere. If they were lost, the community at large was not seriously impacted.  If surviving, then came the Outpost, small group of hardy individuals (in this metaphor - 2-4 academic high fliers). The community would watch. If thriving, next came the Pioneers, small posse-sized group of 5-10 (academically sound with family and resource support) With this base established, the community (students, high schools and families) have a firm relationship of success with the higher education institution and, a with a now noticeable demographic, improved recruitment and support become the norm.

Yes, identification could be made very early on and developed even before acceptance through online and in-person options.  Maybe even a 'sister city' sort of idea between under-represented areas and demographics to make the 'like you' connections even earlier to increase the odds of  access and the leap to success in a new environment easier and more beneficial.

Colleges could deliberately infuse the conversations slowly with students from other economic, regional and cultural areas.  It would be of benefit to all.  They haven't jumped into the 'abyss of everything is different' without the comfort of touchstones who know what 'biscuits and gravy' are but also are discovering the fun and excitement of developing friends and peers who are different thus creating a richer tapestry of learning environments and building skills in accepting others.

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