Data Is About More Than Numbers

By: Patrick Cortez, Data & Evaluation Manager

The same way we use a scale to tell us if our weight loss plan is on track, organizations too need indicators to let us know that we are on track with our goals. With the changing nature of the educational landscape and so many emerging needs, having stable indicators while also piloting several projects to respond to these needs has allowed us to answer some important questions, while also providing learning experiences to better serve our students for next year. Collecting robust engagement and impact data allows us to shed light on our most effective strategies and interventions. This is the heart of our data-centered approach to our services because at the end of the day, each of our ‘data points’ is a student with hopes, dreams, and goals. The data tells us a lot about how best we can help our students reach their full potential.

Photo by Lukas from PexelsHaving joined Fulfillment Fund in January 2021 and completing our database migration to Apricot, our new cloud-based student record management system, which allows us to better gauge the effectiveness of our services (including a first full year of virtual services), I could then turn more attention to improvements in our data tracking and sharing that ultimately serve to move the organization forward. Looking in the rear-view mirror, here’s what we learned and experienced. 

During the 2020-2021 academic year, we regularly shared real-time information with the organization’s leadership and key stakeholders, as well as with advisors and counselors to help shed light on their (virtual) touchpoints with students throughout the school year.

Scholarly literature and the network of community-based organizations and college access providers help inform our best practices not only in service delivery but also in data collection and reporting. We try to stay on top of collecting the right bits of information as the landscape changes around us. Examples of this include altering our surveys to be more inclusive for students of all gender identities or finding alternative ways to identify key demographic indicators such as household income due to changes in how this is reported. We are intentional in our effort to also be culturally responsive. For instance, by offering materials and resources in other languages such as Spanish and Korean. All of this is consequential to how we uplift students by using inclusive language and empowering descriptors.

We also made sure to find ways to get feedback from students at key points of the year and from specific program events to inform the next steps or future iterations. For example, through post-workshop surveys, we asked students at our Fulfillment Fund University (FFU) summer bridge workshops to suggest topics for the next day, as our programs team felt that soliciting student feedback in this way was vital in keeping consistent attendance across several weeks and creating deeper engagement with the workshop content. 

Most recently, we asked students for their thoughts about our programs in end-of-year surveys, and plan to engage students more directly via focus groups later in the year. This has been not just a great opportunity to learn more about the students we serve, but also to build our team’s capacity around data collection and evaluation. 

Fulfillment Fund’s prioritization of effective data practices aids in our delivering supports that are most helpful to students and their families. We understand the significant role we play in a student’s life of being providers of hope, information, and support to and through college, and this is just one more tool for us to be ever-responsive to their feedback.

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