Insights & News

Smart Strategies and Top Challenges for Regional Education Partnerships

In regions across California, a variety of partners are teaming up to create more opportunity for low-income students and a brighter future for their community. They are local leaders from K-12 schools, higher education institutions, business and civic life—working side by side to dismantle the complex barriers to college success.

Regional education partnerships are stitching together the patchwork of systems students and their families must navigate—and focusing each of their distinct roles on progress toward shared success metrics. They can align curricular expectations across high school and college to reduce the need for remedial coursework. They can work in the local economy to develop curricular pathways and credentialing programs to ready students for meaningful employment and meet workforce demands. These partnerships also can enhance student support services to increase high school and college graduation rates.

Regional education partnerships are stitching together the patchwork of systems that students and their families must navigate.

New research from Education Insights Center (EdInsights), formerly known as the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, gives us on-the-ground perspective and analysis of this work. Organizing for Success: California’s Regional Education Partnerships presents promising strategies and conditions for regional education partnerships while also identifying common obstacles to success. College Futures Foundation funded this study in partnership The James Irvine Foundation.

Findings are based on 37 interviews with members of 19 regional partnerships across the state. The report will be of interest to education practitioners, partnership stakeholders, and funders who support collaboration across sectors and across educational segments (e.g., school districts, postsecondary institutions) within a region. Many involved in this movement will recognize their work in these pages; we think that you may find new insights of interest and value as you make the case for this work to engage participants and supporters. A companion Policy Brief breaks down the issue for state and local policymakers and presents areas for action, including the need for cross-system data structures and regional workforce forecasting.

The report identifies important considerations for the development of regional education partnerships, including viable options for leadership and operation, membership and participation, goals and accountability. It also offers analysis and real-world examples of promising practices that include focusing on a few main goals, leveraging existing networks, and using data to motivate action and inform activities.

This research also highlights areas of challenge for these groups, such as a lack of systemic incentives to support change, the degree of ongoing effort it takes to foster the trusting relationships essential to cooperation, and the difficulty of building adequate internal capacity and obtaining needed technical assistance to get the work done.

“Our economies are regional and so it makes sense we are working together as a region…[but] we do not have the structure in place to support regional work long term.” – Community College Administrator

These challenges merit our attention. College Futures Foundation supports a regional approach to student success in California for a number of reasons. We have learned that 70 percent of California students who enroll directly in college after high school choose to remain within their home region, so supporting their success is an important investment in community vitality. And in our large and diverse state, regionalism helps increase the relevance of strategies for local populations, along with the buy-in and alignment of institutions whose practices and culture must shift to reduce barriers and increase attainment.

We are excited to share this research, which provides practitioners and policymakers alike with important perspectives on the progress of regional partnerships—as well as tangible recommendations for putting tested ideas to work for students in regions across the state.