NCAN Takeaway: The Critical Role of High-Level Leaders in the College Access Movement

We frequently stress the importance of cross-sector, high level leaders being at the table when talking about making needle-moving progress toward college attainment. In fact, it is the premise of Collective Impact, the framework we live by at MCAN. So it was refreshing to hear this idea reinforced in many of the plenary sessions at the National College Access Network annual conference, which MCAN staff attended last month in my home state of Arizona.

The conference kicked off with an address from the Honorable Greg Stanton, mayor of Phoenix. He spoke of the need for increasing college attainment in Arizona and, more impressively, cited key metrics around the state's college attainment including the percentage of adults who currently have a college degree and the percentage of jobs in Arizona that will require a college degree by 2020. These are metrics that MCAN embeds in our messaging, but it was inspiring to see Phoenix's mayor, whose day-to-day job encompasses so much more than just education, plugged into his city and state's educational attainment data and, more importantly, was committed to improving this data. Further, he discussed the significant gaps in college attainment for Hispanic adults (who make up nearly 30% of Arizona's population) and his commitment to aligning systems to help close these gaps.

Having a high-level elected official engaged in the college access conversations happening in the community is a game-changer. Also a game-changer, according to Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, is this same intentional buy-in from high-level leaders in the world of K-12: high school principals. Busteed argues that principal leadership is critical to student success. High schools with talented principals are 2.6x more likely to have above average teacher engagement scores, meaning the students these teachers interact with are also more likely to be engaged in school and thus enter and succeed in college. Our close relationship to high school principals in Michigan has allowed us to see this leadership in action: we know that principals who are excited about college can drive change and progress in their schools.

We hope you continue to engage your leaders as you move forward with the school year!

Brandy Johnson headshot 2013Author: Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network

Posted: October 7, 2014

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