Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Guest Post: Investing In Innovation

Today’s post comes from Michael Collins, associate vice president of postsecondary state policy at Jobs for the Future. JFF leads DEI’s state policy initiative by supporting policy teams in CT, FL, NC, OH, TX, and VA, who are implementing the three-pronged Developmental Education Initiative State Policy strategy. The first of Michael’s three-part series showed how collecting the right data can inform state policy to accelerate dev ed innovation across a system. Part two, below, details how states are investing resources—both financial and otherwise—in that innovation.

According to Webster’s, investment is defined as “the action or process of investing money for profit or a material result.” Most of us would agree, however, that investment isn’t always about financial capital. We can be physically, psychologically, and emotionally invested in a particular result or outcome. For the second component of the DEI state policy strategy--Investment in Innovation--our experience has most certainly been both.

When Jobs for the Future and the DEI states developed the policy strategy, we were bullish. The $10 billion American Graduation Initiative (AGI) was barreling down the tracks, and we were intent on being on that train when it left the station. Our thinking was that states could for the first time in a long time have serious resources to support new approaches. It was a no brainer. So apropos of Webster’s definition of investment, we were banking on states having money to invest in new and smarter ways to serve students who were not ready for college-level work. But alas, the train never made it into the station.  AGI was derailed by a political compromise for health care.

So we were left with a strategy, but no money. Still, the DEI states were undeterred. They knew they needed to find resources over and above what colleges were receiving through their regular funding allocations. The states boldly embraced investing in innovation despite the lack of new money. Even without AGI, states found resources to help their institutions design and implement new ways to serve developmental education students.

Texas invested $5 million to encourage its colleges to deliver developmental education in new and different ways--one of the largest state-level investments. Connecticut seeded innovation through a $50,000 commitment to each of its colleges. Florida braided state funding, DEI resources, and College Access Challenge Grants to help its colleges pilot changes. And both Virginia and North Carolina are deep into redesigning developmental math and English for all of the colleges in their respective states. Ohio, taking a different approach, invited community colleges to pilot partnerships with Adult Basic Education (ABE) to align ABE and developmental education entrance and exit requirements. Surprisingly, all 23 Ohio colleges took on the challenge, even though there were no financial incentives attached.

There are multiple lessons here. First, even in the toughest economy it is possible to invest in developmental education innovation. Second, and probably most important, as we’ve learned from losing AGI, it’s not only about the money. Investing in innovation is, of course, in large part financial. But investment is also about being invested in change and finding creative ways to make change happen, just as the DEI states have done.

Michael Collins is associate vice president of postsecondary state policy at Jobs for the Future.

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