What We’re Reading…

HEI staff members share what we’re reading this month. We welcome your recommendations for next month!

books in black wooden book shelf
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tait Kellogg, PhD, Director of Research & Strategic Services
The College Transparency Act – 117th United States Congress, 1st Session
KEY TAKEAWAY: “I am closely following this bipartisan act, which proposes the creation of a national student-level data system—tracking student postsecondary outcomes at institutions nationwide.”

Elexus Robinson, Research Assistant
“The Equality Act and the End of ‘Females'” By Mary Rice Hasson in Newsweek
KEY TAKEAWAY: “Very interesting read that provides a differing stance on the use of the term ‘sex’ within the Equality Act versus the term ‘female.’ It’s an opinion piece published in February 2021, providing a civil critique to how we define the differences between the identities of sex and gender along biological, legal, and moral lines.”

Kate Potterfield, Marketing & Communications Director
“Building Trust: What communicators—and their institutions—needs to prioritize to create a more inclusive campus” by Teresa Valerio Parrot on Inside Higher Ed
KEY TAKEAWAY: “This opinion piece draws on recent studies and best practices to provide insight into ensuring that the voices of students of color are fully heard and valued across college campuses. I’ve always believed that communications work is only as strong as the work it represents—a point that rang true in this piece. Words matter only as much as they reflect real actions to build an environment of trust, inclusion, and equity.”

Akashi Kaul, PhD, Research Associate
The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood
KEY TAKEAWAY: “It’s nice to read fiction for a while!”


Staff Spotlight: Donté McGuire, Research Analyst

HEI invites you to get to know our fantastic staff members. Each month, we will highlight a different colleague. This month, learn about Donté McGuire’s expertise and what drives him professionally.

Donté McGuire, MEd, serves as a Research Analyst at Higher Ed Insight. Donté’s approach is characterized by his emphasis on collaboration, genuine curiosity, and deep appreciation for both research scholarship and practitioner knowledge. He has experience in various educational contexts including international education, high school re-entry and completion, college access, residence life and housing, program evaluation, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. He is a doctoral candidate in the University of Maryland’s Higher Education program and is earning a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies. Donté’s scholarship focuses on improving educational access and success for marginalized groups, cross-cultural education and understanding, and culturally competent leadership. He earned a MEd in Higher Education Administration from North Carolina State University and a BA in Psychology with a minor in Sociology from Wake Forest University.

What first drew you to work in higher education?

Like most things in my career, I kind of “happened upon” higher education. In the first five years after earning my undergraduate degree, I worked in various education fields. For example, I taught in Copiapó, Chile, and Accra, Ghana; led a high-school reentry program in my hometown; and helped to administer a college access program housed at UNC Chapel Hill. 

This work in college access first introduced me to the field of higher education as a profession. Honestly, and looking back a bit funny, I thought working on a college campus meant I would have little-to-no work during the summer months. I soon found out that was the case for most of the people in the office I worked in—however, for my program summer was actually one of our busiest seasons.

How would you describe your current work/the work you’re most passionate about?

In general, I am most passionate about any work that is rooted in expanding opportunities, creating or sustaining just systems, and/or providing equitable resources. With that said, I’m most excited about my work with FORTE House, which provides a path for formerly incarcerated individuals to flourish in society through postsecondary education, housing, technology, and holistic support services. It has been an exciting opportunity for me to learn and grow my own skill set, while contributing to very critical work.

What gives you hope in the work you do?

Related to my previous answer, working with FORTE House founding executive director, Tia Ryans, and two of her colleagues, Hanif Parker and Karen Kaplan, has given me hope. I believe the world needs more Black feminist leadership and more people supporting Black feminist leadership, particularly those who are not Black women—and in my limited experience I have found Tia and her team are a great example of this. I have been deeply inspired by Tia’s vision, innovation, and leadership, and the incredible impact she and her team have within their communities.

What is your favorite part of working at HEI and with HEI’s clients?

The three things I enjoy most are engaging my curiosity, meeting and working with new people, and bringing together scholar and practitioner knowledge. I am an eternally curious person and to me there’s no question too small or too dull to consider. At the core of my work as a researcher are a ton of questions that—while all being connected to higher education—range quite a bit. 

We also have a very collaborative approach to our work, where we seriously consider client feedback to research design and deliverables. I look forward to traveling to meet some of these folks in person once it’s safe to do so again.

Lastly, as a PhD candidate, I appreciate the value of academic theories to understanding the world around me. At the same time, I very much value the things I’ve come to know from my professional experience being in community with, listening to, and learning alongside colleagues—or what some may call “practice.” I realize in some ways the dichotomy between theory and practice is a false one, yet it has real consequences in shaping the work environments I’ve been a part of. So I like that I can bring together both my  “practice” knowledge and “theory” knowledge as I design and implement research projects.


York College’s NASA MAA: Inspiring a Generation of Diverse STEM Professionals

african american scientist preparing for geography workshop sitting behind window with huge palm tree in library
Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

This month, we’re proud to shine the spotlight on our client, York College, for whom we serve as evaluator for its NASA Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Aerospace Academy (MAA) Program. York MAA endeavors to realize the following program goals:

  1. Inspire a diverse student population to pursue continuing education and careers in STEM.
  2. Engage and educate these students using rigorous, fun, hands-on, grade-specific, NASA-designed STEM curricula.
  3. Promote understanding and appreciation of STEM education by actively engaging the greater MAA population, including families, pre- and in-service teachers, and schools through targeted family activities and community partnerships.

The opportunities for STEM exposure and engagement afforded to students by York MAA are transformative, in terms of access to innovative STEM programming, and by extension, the tangibility of educational and professional promise. This potential is of great significance when considering that these STEM and lifelong benefits are disproportionately limited to learners from the demographic backgrounds (e.g., Black and Latinx students, girls) and environmental contexts (i.e., urban neighborhoods) served by York MAA. The achievements of York MAA need to be highlighted and celebrated, as it supports the dismantling of would-be barriers to equitable STEM access and participation, catalyzing a generation of diverse, innovative STEM professionals. Many past York MAA participants have gone on to study STEM, earn degrees in STEM, and/or work in STEM or STEM-adjacent careers. These young professionals often attribute York MAA on some level for their interest in, pursuit of, and/or success in STEM. 

The diversity within the program does not conclude with students—teachers and staff also represent a multitude of backgrounds, contributing to the culture of positive science learning and sense of belonging. Teachers often discuss their passion for this work, sharing how “seeing and supporting children that look like me” within the sciences is rewarding. Teachers and aides aspire to instill a sense of positive science efficacy within students, expanding their perspective of what it means to do science, and more importantly, transforming perceptions regarding who can participate in these disciplines—both of which speaks to the national imperative to broaden representation within STEM.

York MAA’s contributions to inspiring young learners of color from urban communities is not only understood by program staff but also acknowledged by the larger community. Anecdotes from parents and families, coverage by local media, and recognition by STEM professionals and societies—to name a few—demonstrate York MAA’s reputation as a high quality, effective STEM education model that contributes a wealth of value to the community. The success of the program is undoubtedly influenced by the tremendous leadership of Dr. Nazrul Khandaker, Director of CUNY York’s NASA MAA Program. His passion, dedication, and expertise make him an incomparable asset to York MAA, Queens, NY, and the broader STEM and education communities. To learn more about this work, read this article about motivating students in STEM authored by Dr. Khandaker.

Do you have a NASA MUREP project you need to evaluate? Or perhaps one you’d like to develop? We’d love to speak with you! Feel free to schedule a consult here.


The Dawn of the Biden-Harris Higher Ed Agenda

Photo by Baim Hanif on Unsplash
Photo by Baim Hanif on Unsplash

While the country awaits the official White House budget for education, an abundance of pre-election campaigning and post-election positioning help to project what is ahead for higher education policy. The current Democratic Party leadership has an ambitious agenda for higher education. Miguel Cardona, at the helm of the US Department of Education, brings tremendous K-12 experience to his role but sparse, if any, experience in postsecondary education. He will be relying on a fantastic group of known advocates, in particular Michelle Asha Cooper who is serving as acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education.

Here are some of the highlights of what to expect over the next four years:

  • College Access: This priority is front and center for this administration, with talks of doubling the treasured Pell Grant program to a maximum of $13,000—an amount that would be a historically significant increase for low-income students. 
  • Community Colleges: As noted by Secretary Cardona in his confirmation remarks, this administration will be focused on community colleges. It seeks to create a more prosperous nation, with greater outcomes for America’s low- and middle- income students. This could be the beginning of a free-tuition two-year college system in the US.
  • Workforce Development Continued: There will be a heavy focus on workforce training programs and innovative business-to-college partnerships. Like with TAACCCT during the Obama years, this administration will make big investments in workforce development programs in areas of need and likely will provide substantial funding for apprenticeships, other work-based learning programs, and CTE programs at community colleges, perhaps coming out of both the Departments of Education and Labor. 
  • Student Success Focus: We are also likely to see some new grants and spending occurring around evidence-based practices with respect to student success. Perhaps this will further expand the ed-tech boom with technology-based solutions intertwined with programmatic improvements around services, advising, and mentoring. 
  • Emergency Aid: Expanded opportunities and uses for emergency aid programs will likely be on the horizon to better support students with multifaceted lives who need help to address unexpected costs that arise while studying. Specifically, HEERF funding is flowing into institutions to bridge financial aid gaps and help institutions manage costs related to the pandemic.
  • Tech Infrastructure: Grants and funding for big investments in technology infrastructure at community colleges and other lower-resources institutions are expected to roll out.
  • MSI Focus: A strong commitment to Minority-Serving Institutions can be expected, with changes to funding inequities, infrastructure, and talent challenges. Soon after being elected President, Joe Biden met with leaders from HBCUs to solidify his commitment to remedying the challenges in this sector. 
  • Loan Forgiveness: Some policy changes related to student loans will likely be made, but it remains to be seen what it will look like. A great piece by Sandy Baum articulates the clear challenges with the choice of loan forgiveness as a priority, arguing that it is not the most problematic form of debt.

The staff at HEI and our affiliates are gearing up for a big grant season resulting from the Biden-Harris agenda, opportunities for collaboration with colleges and universities, as well as evaluation support and research, strategy, and technical assistance services. 

If you have any projects or upcoming needs you’d like to discuss, please schedule a call


What We’re Reading…

HEI staff members share what we’re reading this month. We welcome your recommendations for next month!

books in black wooden book shelf
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tait Kellogg, PhD, Director of Research & Strategic Services
“Place Matters: A Closer Look at Education Deserts” by Nick Hillman, PhD, with Third Way
KEY TAKEAWAY: “I appreciate Third Way’s approach to make complex issues around higher education accessible. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on around rural higher education. Dr. Hillman’s outline of the concept of education deserts highlights this issue in a unique way.”

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
KEY TAKEAWAY: “This book of short stories from Mississippi author Aimee Nezhukumatathil is truly a gem. It reminds me to find joy in approaching nature and each other with inquisitiveness and wonder.”

Kelly Rifelj, Research Assistant
“Why Aren’t Progressives Focused on Earn-While-You-Learn Models?” By Ryan Craig on Inside Higher Ed
KEY TAKEAWAY: “As much of my work has been on the Free College/promise program movement, I like to keep current of alternative proposals or complementary ideas. In this piece, the author proposes reforming the Federal Work Study program to be more robust and include private employers to support a more equitable higher education system. This is significant because other methods besides, or in addition to, Free College can work to create more equitable outcomes (e.g., doubling the Pell Grant)—and that could be powerful steps to progress.”

Akashi Kaul, PhD, Research Associate
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
The Survivors by Jane Harper
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
KEY TAKEAWAY: “Too many to list here! Fiction is a great way to unwind!”


Staff Spotlight: Akashi Kaul, PhD, Research Associate

HEI invites you to get to know our fantastic staff members. Each month, we will highlight a different colleague. This month, learn about Dr. Akashi Kaul’s expertise and what drives her professionally.

Akashi Kaul, PhD, serves as a Research Associate at Higher Ed Insight. Her work focuses on education; public policy; international development; and evaluation and research design, implementation, and methodologies. She approaches her work through a social justice and equity lens and is passionate about culturally responsive approaches to research and evaluation. Akashi has a BA in Literature and Sociology, an MA in Mass Communication, an MS in International Educational Development, and a PhD in Education Policy.

What first drew you to work in higher education?

I wasn’t attracted to higher education directly per se. I am a research methodologist who works across disciplines and I thoroughly enjoy that about my role. My work in higher education, however, has been driven by my interest in increasing equity and inclusion in the space. My interests lie broadly in program and policy research and evaluation—including within the higher education sector.

How would you describe your current work/the work you’re most passionate about?

My current work is at the intersection of STEM education, higher education, and diversity, equity and inclusion. The work I’m most passionate about is the work that directly affects diversity, equity, and inclusion policies, programs, and efforts. 

What gives you hope in the work you do?

The overall landscape within higher education is changing. There is an increased interest in and effort to be more inclusive and equitable. This gives me hope. The increased interest in racial equity work in the field is also something that gives me hope—both generally and in our work at HEI.”

What is your favorite part of working at HEI and with HEI’s clients?

I like HEI’s focus on relationship building with clients and future clients. The work culture at HEI is driven by a genuine passion for what we do and a desire to truly help our clients. This is translated to our relationship with the clients in everything we do and is my favorite part of working here. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just that I’m looking forward to a great 2021! It has been just two months but the year is already off to a busy start and I’m looking forward to what’s coming up ahead!


Client Spotlight: Clarkson University STEM LEAF

This month, we’re proud to shine the spotlight on our client, Clarkson University, for whom we serve as evaluator for its National Science Foundation (NSF) “ADVANCE: Organizational Change for Gender Equity in STEM Academic Professions” grant.

Upon receiving the grant in 2019, Clarkson University established STEM Leadership, Equity and Advancement of Faculty (STEM LEAF), a project designed to transform “the campus culture to further foster innovation through inclusion and belonging” with the following core goals:

  1. To significantly reduce implicit or unintentional bias associated with gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and country of origin,
  2. To support inclusive leadership development of current and future University Leadership and professional development of STEM women faculty, and
  3. To promote the sustainability of these systemic efforts through university-wide structural changes. 

This important work is highlighted as the NSF celebrates the 20th anniversary of ADVANCE with a series of panels and seminars throughout the month of March.

Do you have an ADVANCE project you need to evaluate? Or perhaps one you’d like to develop? We’d love to speak with you! Feel free to schedule a consult here.


Do you care about college access? Then it’s time to get to know more about ATCs (Area Technical Centers)…

Most of us working in higher ed don’t really understand CTE (that’s Career Technical Education)—and at one time this included me. Through the years, however, I’ve come to learn that it’s the heart and soul of the pathway to opportunity for those who most need postsecondary education for a better future.

We can all agree on the need for credentials that have value—and that lead to meaningful employment and wages for graduates. We all know that college attainment leads to better outcomes in many ways across a person’s life. I know, I’m preaching to the choir here. Yet, despite knowing this and how many millions of working-age adults lack a sufficient credential, we see a persistent chasm between much of higher education and the workforce development system that is a common stop on the road for many learners.

So, what is an ATC and why does it matter?

ATCs, according to the organization, Advance CTE, are “CTE-focused institutions that serve learners from across multiple geographies, such as school districts, education services areas, and workforce development areas or regions…they offer secondary and sub-baccalaureate-level education and training…or both.” A recent report from Advance CTE found that:

  • There are 1,300 ATCs in the US, across 39 states and territories.
  • ATCs vary tremendously in their history, governance, and funding structures (which is why they are tricky to understand).
  • ATCs make a significant contribution to state attainment goals through largely less-than-associate-degree-level credentials, although most ATCs are primarily secondary-school serving.
  • Many ATCs that have articulation agreements in place have them locally (not through statewide agreements), and they work closely with two-year colleges or local technical colleges.
  • ATCS’ structures are determined locally, and the federal government no longer acknowledges ATCs or requires reporting from them in the most recent CTE legislation.
  • ATCs vary widely in how they are governed and funded, but most are through the secondary schools or local education area that sends learners to the ATC (see figure below). The most significant fiscal resources come from districts, schools, and Perkins funds.

Unlike their four-year-college cousin, ATCs and CTE programs have the ability to change quickly in response to industry needs and demands. However, much like with their four-year-college cousin, the sector lacks a real awareness of the impact of ATCs and CTE programs on their clear intended outcomes. (Stay tuned for a discussion on outcomes evaluation in higher ed in our next newsletter).

Nonetheless, ATCs are a very important piece of the college opportunity puzzle. Some learners, whether they are in secondary school or recent high school graduates, will never attend a four-year college without some exposure. ATCs and CTE programs create a small path towards a bigger future—but only if state and local policy leaders understand how it can work.

In 2020, the HEI team was involved in two Comprehensive Local Needs Assessments (CLNAs) with community college partners in Maryland. These CLNAs are a requirement of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), which is the federal policy related to CTE today (that began in the 1950s and 60s with the National Defense Act and the Vocational Act of 1963). This experience radically changed our views about the significance of CTE in the college attainment story. Clear best practices are emerging that are critical for the expansion of college opportunity and are highlighted in Advance CTE’s report:

  • Integrate ATCs and CTE programs, generally, into any state education and workforce planning and policies.
  • Support the articulation agreements between ATCs and postsecondary institutions, so that short-term, industry-recognized credentials count toward associate and baccalaureate degrees.
  • Develop meaningful data dashboards on postsecondary and CTE outcomes.
  • Support ATCs in achieving full accreditation so they qualify for federal and state postsecondary funding.
  • Ensure that CTE outcome measures consider diversity and equity goals to identify major barriers to opportunity for marginalized populations in different fields.

Are you interested in talking through the impact and opportunity of ATCs vis-à-vis your organization? We’re ready thought partners and guides. Feel free to book a consult here, or contact us here.


Planning Retreat: American Youth Policy Forum

An organization’s future is brightest when planned strategically and with collective wisdom. To that end, Higher Ed Insight (HEI) recently facilitated a highly successful year-end virtual planning retreat for the youth-focused organization American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF). The goal: bring together an ensemble of thought leaders and impassioned change makers for an afternoon of collaborative discussion to inform future initiatives and planning action steps for the AYPF as its board leadership looks ahead to the next five years. 

Zoom Planning Retreat

On a Friday afternoon in mid-December, the Board of Directors of AYPF gathered around the “table,” which took the form of a six-by-six grid of faces via Zoom, in true 2020 fashion. Joining the Board of Directors at the digital table were members of the AYPF staff, facilitators from HEI, and more than a dozen invited guests, each of whom brought their unique perspective on policies and practices to create opportunity for America’s underserved and underrepresented young people. 

Participants in the visioning exercise included public policy leaders with expertise ranging from early childhood development to adult career technical education, child welfare to corrections reform, learning to legislation, and socioeconomics to science. Each attendee was invested in the growth, opportunity, and success of young people, making them ideal influencers for an organization whose very essence is grounded in work that builds success for youth, particularly those in the margins.

Mission and Vision at the Core

Taking inspiration from AYPF’s vision and mission, HEI facilitators crafted questions designed to allow a broad and open exploration of the myriad of ways AYPF could advocate and influence opportunities for young people across the nation. Additionally, the facilitators intentionally configured breakout sessions to provide both structure to the work and to deliberately tailor smaller group conversations to ensure that every voice in the digital room had a chance to be heard during the discussion. 

Conversation and Collaboration

The Higher Ed Insight team moderated the synergistic discussion. In the breakout sessions, the participants considered questions relating to the creative engagement of stakeholders, cross-sector collaboration, the surfacing and amplification of youth voices, and the facilitation of equitable opportunities. As each question was explored, ideas were expanded, stretched, and optimized. The unique perspectives of the panelists combined to enhance each suggestion, ultimately making the ideas stronger and more viable.  

The breakout sessions provided AYPF staff with collaborative input resulting in a solid list of promising ideas to inform the future direction of AYPF initiatives and projects. 

Next Step: Strategic Plan

HEI’s facilitation of AYPF’s end-of-year planning retreat has equipped AYPF with stakeholder ideas and renewed energy for their work as they move forward, impacting policies, practices, and opportunities for youth for years to come. These suggestions build upon a clear sense of AYPF’s mission and vision and provide an expansive view of what is possible in the next five years.

Interested in learning more about how we approach virtual planning? Please email us or schedule a consultation.


What We’re Reading – January 2021

HEI staff members share what we’re reading this month. We welcome your recommendations for next month!

books in black wooden book shelf
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Patricia Steele, PhD: Educated by Tara Westover

Key Takeaway: Yes, I’m two years behind everyone reading this incredible memoir. I’m captivated by the reality that educational opportunity can afford transformational change, for individuals and for generations. A reminder for why we do the things we do.

Tashera Bolds, PhD: “Culturally Responsive Evaluation: Theory, Practice, and Future Implications”

This article was published by the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  

Key Takeaway: Cultural considerations of the populations and contexts impacted by our evaluation practice is critical–and substantially so when serving diverse, historically marginalized communities. This article, and the work of the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) more broadly, explores the application of culturally responsive evaluation from both theoretical and practical lenses. Revisiting these resources was a timely reminder of the importance of actively and consistently reflecting on one’s own approach to evaluation and ensuring that it is culturally grounded.

Donte McGuire, MEd: Black Teacher Griot blog project 

Andrea (she/her/hers) is a self-described “teacher, learner, curriculum designer, and lover of Black folks” whose site provides space for Black teachers to share their experiences as educators. I specifically appreciated the post, “Dreaming my way free…” 

Key Takeaway: This particular blog post, “Dreaming my way free… “, is a great example of what I enjoy most about Andrea’s work and the Black Teacher Griot website. They both provide me with visions that exist beyond, but not disconnected from, the current inequitable and oppressive educational systems–visions that are always rooted in love and community.

In my work, a lot can be gained by immersing myself in the data. Yet, this quote from Andrea reminds me that there is also much to gain from intentionally setting the data aside to imagine possibilities I never thought was possible: “Some dreams are not simply about creating new realms, some are connecting us to the past, showing what is already inside our communities and ourselves.” 

Tait Kellogg, PhD: Rural Matters” podcast

I’ve been listening to the “Rural Matters” podcast, a reflection of my interest in rural higher education. Especially great was the recent episode with our partner at Education Design Labs, Leslie Daugherty, when we spoke about challenges and opportunities for community colleges in rural areas.

Key Takeaway: Rural areas are resilient and rural community colleges in particular are often instrumental institutions for their communities.