How does “collective impact” strengthen community-wide educational & career success?

The Opportunity

By 2018, 62% of jobs in the U.S. will require a college education, yet college completion rates lag dramatically, with only 38% of young adults aged 25-34 holding a postsecondary degree. The graduation rates for students of color, first generation, and low-income youth, foster youth, or those involved with the justice system are even lower, further widening the opportunity gap. Creating comprehensive educational and career opportunities for all young people requires taking bold, systemic, collective approaches that cut across institutional and organizational silos and sectors.

“What is different about this systems change strategy is that we are approaching it with the rigor of collective impact.”

Steve Patrick, Executive Director, Aspen Forum for Community Solutions

The Response

In 2013-2014, two Equal Measure clients – the Lumina Foundation and the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions – invested almost 20 million dollars to strengthen postsecondary success partnerships in nearly 100 communities across the United States. Seventy-five Lumina Community Partnership for Attainment sites are targeting a wide range of residents from high school and college aged students to adults, whereas the Aspen investment focuses on supporting young people between the ages of 16 to 24, who neither enrolled in school nor are participating in the labor market in 21 communities.

As the complexity of building educational and career opportunities has increased, so has the emphasis on collective approaches. Collective impact, a term coined by John Kania and Mark Kramer in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, requires a wide range of partners to work together differently, using data to identify, assess, and implement the most impactful and scalable policy and practice solutions.

As collective impact has gained strong traction, so has the demand to determine: whether collective impact approaches produce better results, how those approaches might produce better results, and what makes these strategies different from past community based systems change efforts. Equal Measure is conducting a formative and summative evaluation of these two investments through three lines of inquiry:

  • How do communities adopt collective impact approaches as vehicles for systemic shifts that support postsecondary success?
  • What does it take to build the necessary commitment and community buy-in to support a comprehensive postsecondary success agenda?
  • What shifts in policy, practice, and programs are associated with the greatest gains toward postsecondary success?

From our work, we have learned that shifting systems is not just about partners working together differently. It is about individual partners internalizing the completion agenda and shifting organizational or institutional policies and practices, supported by substantial reallocation of resources. And it is about a shift in community power dynamics, a broadened and diversified set of “postsecondary success” stakeholders, and a renewed emphasis on using data for public accountability, engagement, and continuous improvement. For the Aspen and Lumina communities, success will lie in straddling the line between loose structure, responsiveness to shifting community context, and being highly prescriptive.

New Resources

From the field:

Jobs for the Future publishes many reports focusing on issues affecting opportunity youth. View and download the reports here.


Collective Impact for Opportunity Youth, published by FSG, offers a framework to help communities address the challenges faced by opportunity youth.

New from Equal Measure

Equal Measure participated in the GEO Community of Practice on the evaluation of place-based systems-change initiatives. Jessica Bearman, an independent consultant, facilitated the group, and shares her thoughts on the GEO publication, Evaluating Community Change: A Framework for Grantmakers, in our Insights Blog.

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