As a Fellow, we are given an incredible opportunity to work in and learn about different regions in Colorado. More importantly, we get the chance to meet the amazing stakeholders and community members that make their region exceptional. Part of what makes the Northwest region exceptional is the people, and in particular, the partnerships that these people create to help better their region.
Since 2012, the Northwest Regional Council has supported a workforce development and postsecondary education pipeline, the Reach Your Peak pipeline (RYP). This pipeline is unique because it is the product of a strong partnership between Colorado Mesa University, Colorado Mountain College, Colorado Northwestern Community College, and Western Colorado Community College. With continuing support from the Northwest Council and over $500,000 in funding, these four institutions have been implementing a three phase educational pipeline: beginning with middle school summer camps; continuing with concurrent enrollment in high school; and culminating in scholarships to the institutions in the region.
The pipeline has had a positive effect over the years, but the Council needs to consider one important thing: What exactly does success look like for this program? There is no easy answer to this question, but the easiest place to begin is by requesting tangible data collection. In particular, the Council has requested demographic information for students served, number of camps and campers, as well as follow up on whether summer camp participants take concurrent enrollment courses or matriculate at postsecondary institutions. Even with this information, the Council has had mixed results in assessing the impact of the program because the pipeline includes multiple partners who are geographically dispersed, and are addressing intricate problems unique to their area of the region. That coupled with staff turnover has created a complex situation; one that would benefit from a clear set of guidelines to assess true impact and success.
To that end, El Pomar staff engaged with Kurt Wilson, Ph.D. in Evaluation, to work with the staff to “strengthen feedback systems to identify clear and measureable outcomes and compile and distribute data in a useful format.” Kurt recommended the staff and Council consider utilizing a measurement technique known as outcome mapping to isolate the roles and responsibilities of the various parties involved with RYP. Outcome mapping considers complex issues that involve multiple organizations working together for a common goal. In theory, evaluation like this could help create a stronger definition of roles at every level for all partners involved with the RYP pipeline.
As I continue to be involved in the Northwest region and learn the nuances of the RYP pipeline, I hope the Council continues to consider and define what success means to them. Is it that 100% of students complete summer camps and graduate from high school? Is that 75% of students enroll in post-secondary and graduate with a degree? Is it that students ultimately stay in the region and add to the growing Northwestern Colorado workforce? Whatever it may be, a strong understanding of success and a clear set of guidelines is imperative and can only strengthen the already incredible partnerships in Northwestern Colorado.