Building A Strategic Partnership to Increase Postsecondary Success in Arizona

Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Erin Chastain
Senior Associate

When different organizations within a community share the same goals, innovative connections and partnership can amplify their impact. After attending ESG’s Aligned Advising Convening in 2022, stakeholders from both the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) and Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) came together to build momentum for their efforts on behalf of students. Leaders of both groups made the decision to implement key learnings in their newly-formed Arizona Postsecondary Attainment Coalition, which officially merged ADE’s Postsecondary Coalition and ABOR’s Postsecondary Round Table.

With considerable engagement from coalition members, ESG supported the development of a strategic roadmap for postsecondary matriculation and attainment to help guide the group’s work moving forward. Below is an interview with both agencies highlighting the importance of partnerships to improve student success in Arizona and how they have informed Arizona’s strategy to increase attainment rates. 

1. How did your existing partnership begin? What led you to the decision to merge both coalitions? 

Roxanne Murphy, Director, Postsecondary Attainment at the ABOR: ADE & ABOR have a long-standing partnership that began with a mutual mission to support education in Arizona. The decision to merge both coalitions was driven by the realization that both faced similar challenges, and that by combining our efforts, we could create a stronger, more impactful, and sustainable coalition. The mission and goals of the different coalitions were remarkably aligned, and merging allowed us to create a more focused and coherent strategy to achieve our shared vision of increasing postsecondary attainment rates and improving educational outcomes for all students in Arizona.

Andrea Glenn, Director of Postsecondary & Community Engagement at the ADE: ADE has had a unique partnership with ABOR over the years, as our State Superintendent of Public Instruction is a voting member and Regent on the Arizona Board of Regents. In June of 2020, my position was added to ADE, as the Director of Postsecondary & Community Engagement and over the course of these three years, our partnership with ABOR has evolved into what it is today.  In this role, I serve as a conduit between our K-12 systems and higher education partners to also break down existing barriers and policies that affect students matriculating into their postsecondary programs. As I began my work in June of 2020 and started thinking of a way to convene key stakeholders from across the state to help create a broader vision and action plan for addressing our Achieve60AZ goal, I started ADE’s Postsecondary Coalition, which met on a quarterly basis with over 50 members and voices in both our K12 and higher education communities. As time progressed, both ADE and ABOR, who regularly met to conduct business and collaborate on a multitude of initiatives, saw that we were duplicating efforts and convenings with similar purposes. In our analysis of who’s doing what around postsecondary planning and implementation, and with ABOR’s recent addition to absorbing the Arizona FAFSA Challenge, we decided that it would be best to intentionally and purposefully merge our two coalitions together to be consistent and strategic with our vision, message, goals and action plans. 

2. Why are strong partnerships between agencies key to improving student success and meeting Arizona’s postsecondary attainment goal? 

ABOR: Strong partnerships allow for a unified platform where agencies like ADE, ABOR as well as educators, policymakers, businesses, and community leaders can come together to exchange ideas, share best practices, and collaborate on innovative solutions to meet attainment goals. One of the primary motivations for the merger was the belief that by joining forces, we could magnify our collective impact on postsecondary education. Each coalition had already achieved significant milestones individually, but by pooling our resources, expertise, and network, we saw the potential to effect positive change on a larger scale.

ADE: Like many states, Arizona is a large, sprawling state, with 15 counties, serving over 1,000 high schools. In order to do the work necessary to best serve all students and families in Arizona, strong partnerships are the secret sauce! Consistency in messaging, scaling work, building capacity for schools and agencies, these are all things that can only exist if we have solid relationships with our organizations across the state, that represent all of our students and their unique postsecondary pathway choices. 

3. What are the major areas of focus in the joint postsecondary coalition’s strategy to increase postsecondary attainment in Arizona?

ABOR and ADE: We currently have four major areas of focus in the Postsecondary Attainment Coalition: Academics, Postsecondary Entry, and Postsecondary Persistence and Success. We also work closely with the Arizona FAFSA Coalition and center their work within the Financial Assistance group. These areas of focus are part of a comprehensive framework for postsecondary access and success in Arizona.

4. How does the joint postsecondary coalition plan to collaborate, take stock of its progress, and make any needed adjustments as the work to implement postsecondary attainment strategies unfolds?

ABOR: Since the strategic roadmap was produced, the Postsecondary Attainment Coalition has been working to establish shared goals within each focus area for the upcoming year and making sure that these goals align with the coalition. We are scheduling regular meetings to assess the progress of this partnership, address any challenges, and celebrate achievements and positive outcomes. Additionally, we are seeking opportunities to engage with students, educators, and other stakeholders who can provide valuable insights into the strategy’s impact on the ground and highlight where adjustments could be beneficial. We also hope to regularly evaluate the partnership’s performance and identify areas for improvement so that we can continue to enhance the Postsecondary Attainment Coalition’s efficacy and impact.

ADE: Since the coalition has over 50 key stakeholders from across the state, our hope is that we can put our resources, assets, and human capital together to bring forth larger change that moves the needle of attainment for our state. We meet as a larger coalition on a quarterly basis with our four subcommittees hosting meetings more frequently throughout the year to continue to review data, stay abreast of new and changing policies, and pilot programming as we see fit. This group is new; however, we will continue to make adjustments as the needs and growing assets of our state continue to change for our students and families. 

5. How do you continue to be intentional with this partnership and when bringing in new partners to the work (e.g. Education Forward Arizona)?

ABOR: We continue to be intentional when bringing in new partners to the work by maintaining focus and purpose in goals and actions. While each partner that joins this work brings a unique set of skills and expertise to the table, we also want to make sure that the partner aligns with the purpose and goals of the coalition.

ADE: Attainment is a passion for us, it’s what we think about constantly, grapple with, and pick apart daily. We know the key to success for our coalition and our state around meeting our attainment goals is centered around being purposeful and strategic with not just our work but who we work with. We hope to continue to keep the door open for new organizations and state agencies to join, as we delve further into the Strategic Roadmap that ESG has provided us with and use that as a way to also center the work that needs to be done. We know that there is no shortage of work and we are committed to ensuring that we have the necessary people and voices at the table that will help us move forward.