Boosting Opportunities for Social and Economic Mobility, or BOOST, supports partnerships between community colleges and human services nonprofits in six cities nationwide to connect people with low incomes to critical human services and educational pathways that will help them climb the social and economic ladder. Its core tenets are social and economic mobility, career pathways, partnership, learning, two generation approaches and racial equity, and sustainability. In this commentary, Kresge’s BOOST learning partner Jobs for the Future (JFF) looks at the approach, development and tools BOOST partnerships used to build a shared understanding of partnership, drive operational systems change, and spur program advancement.
Partnerships between community colleges and human services organizations are essential in ensuring families a pathway to economic mobility, especially during the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Over the past two years, six BOOST cities have developed and shaped the components needed for strong partnerships that support pathways to family economic mobility.
Many times, human services organizations and community colleges often support the same families but may not coordinate to align resources. This challenge can limit the resources and services that students and families receive on their road to social and economic mobility, and often cause families to navigate a large amount of information that can be duplicative.
Two BOOST partners encountered this issue before the BOOST project in Green Bay: Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) and Forward Service Corporation (FSC), a multi-service organization supporting families with career advancement, education and training, and financial support. These organizations have worked together for more than 15 years to serve families with low incomes in Green Bay. Participants from FSC who had enrolled at NWTC were working towards self-sufficiency but were still in need of “life happens” resources and not just academic resources. FSC and NWTC did not have a way to communicate these needs so that students did not have to tell their stories repeatedly, and so the partners worked together to provide support and case management to their clients. It was often difficult for both organizations to identify these shared clients. Additionally, FSC case managers who knew clients took classes at NWTC were unsure of their clients’ experience and academic progress.
The Green Bay BOOST partners advocated for increased access and transparency through data sharing to better track, assess, and support families. The partners are now better informed about how to best support economic mobility for families. The real-time data sharing allows NWTC staff and FSC case managers to work collaboratively to meet the needs of students and their families. Each partner can see referrals and information that students have received and can support students for success and economic mobility.
Organization and System Change
It can be challenging for organizations to support their clients when they’re unaware of their clients’ progress, needs, or academic standing. Human services organizations tend to not have access to student’s academic progress, and community colleges tend to be unaware of the external programs or services their students participate in. As part of the Green Bay partnership’s work to improve transparency and information sharing, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College allowed limited access for Forward Services Corporation case managers to use its student success database, Starfish, to support BOOST clients and families. NWTC and FSC advocated for the data sharing agreement, highlighting how it would lead to greater student success, and got the green light to pilot expanding access to Starfish to FSC case managers.
In addition to the shared data system, the partners developed articulation agreements to award college credit for certificates earned at FSC. This five-year memorandum of understanding encompasses three out of the four certificates offered at FSC. The agreement also includes a clause that allows students who completed any of these certificates from 2019 to be eligible for credit at the technical college. This provides a career pathway for many students by making the opportunities the technical college offers to further advance students’ career paths more accessible.
Shared Understanding through Partnership