Promoting Student Success Through Collective Impact


January 12, 2015


Photo of students seated at desks

In Anchorage, Alaska, a broad partnership called 90% by 2020 has set an ambitious goal. As suggested by its name, the initiative seeks to increase the local graduation rate to 90 percent within the next five years.

Better Together, a partnership based in Central Oregon, has a similar mission of boosting the number of students who graduate from high school and succeed in postsecondary pursuits across six rural districts.

Both partnerships use principles of “collective impact” in their cradle-to-career initiatives. First introduced in a 2011 article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, collective impact brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to collaborate on long-term solutions to deeply rooted community problems.

These two partnerships are not alone in using a collective impact approach to work toward their goals. They are among eight examples of collective impact efforts in the region highlighted in a recent Education Northwest publication, Mobilizing Communities: Improving Northwest Education Through Collective Impact. The national organization Strive Together lists 53 partnerships across 28 states that are applying a collective impact approach to youth- and education-centered goals.

This raises the question: Why is a collective impact approach so appealing to groups with ambitious high school graduation and postsecondary success goals?

“Supporting students’ success in high school and beyond does not happen in a bubble,” says Anna Higgins, who works with Better Together through its backbone organization, the High Desert Education Service District based in Redmond, Oregon. “This work begins long before a student enters high school and goes well beyond the walls of classrooms.”

June Sobocinski, who serves as vice president of Education Impact and who works on 90% by 2020 through the United Way of Anchorage, stresses the need for collaboration to meet goals. “Schools, community organizations, and community leaders across sectors must tackle this together intelligently by putting children at the center of it all, finding what works both inside and outside of classrooms, and leveraging community resources to provide what works.”

Higgins ties this kind of collaboration to results for students. “As businesses, community-based organizations, governmental agencies, and individual community members find their role in this work, our students are reaping the benefit—getting the support they need in all corners of their lives,” she says. “We are working together to increase the number of students completing high school, continuing on to higher education and beginning work in a career they find meaningful.”