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Diving Deep with Bill Gates on Actionable Postsecondary Data Analysis

Published: June 8, 2021

Diving Deep with Bill Gates 

Conversations to get actionable postsecondary data into the field 

As a Product Owner and Marketing Manager at GuidEd Insight, I love to engage in conversations that enable access to actionable data that help provide educators the insight they need to improve postsecondary outcomes for each student. This passion of mine led me to meeting a group of graduate scholars and Bill Gates virtually at the first Gates Notes Deep Dive. I am honored to have taken part in engaging with brilliant individuals across the country who are working on solutions that enhance student success.  

I write today as a passionate education professional, hoping to create awareness and get actionable postsecondary data into the field. However, the intersection of my student journey as a Togolese-American from a low-income background and the need for postsecondary data to support students of similar backgrounds go back quite a few years. By the grace God and the hard-working staff of educators that surrounded me, I graduated high school as both a College Success Foundation and Act Six scholar. These opportunities enabled me to proceed by completing a bachelor’s degree and earn two master’s degrees consecutively.    

College Success Foundation – a national nonprofit organization that helps underserved, low-income students achieve their dream of a college education. 

Act Six – A program of Degrees of Change that provides full scholarships and leadership training for emerging urban and community leaders who want to use their college education to make a difference on campus and in their communities at home. 

On one hand, the odds of my college enrollment and completion immediately after graduating high school would have decreased significantly without the support of community-based organizations like Degrees of Change to support students like me. While 69% of high school graduates immediately enroll in college, only 40% of high school graduates complete their associate’s or bachelor’s degrees within three or six years, respectively. Completion rates are even more bleak for students of color like myself and those impacted by poverty. Less than 30% of Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, Pacific Islander and Black adults age 25 or older hold postsecondary degrees compared to 44% of White and 61% of Asian adults.  

On the other hand, my growth as a student would have also been greatly enhanced with the availability of actionable postsecondary data about students of similar backgrounds to guide my journey to a stable career path. Though not every well-paying job requires a college degree, the average worker with a bachelor’s degree earns approximately $2 million more over their lifetime than a worker without a postsecondary education. While nearly half of Americans from high-income families hold a bachelor’s degree by age 25, only one in ten people from low-income families attain that level of education.  

Without completing postsecondary education, many of our students will have a harder time finding livable wage jobs that are strong predictors of individual, family, and community well-being. Hence, my passion for connecting with practitioners and getting actionable postsecondary data into the field. 

The recent Gates Notes Deep Dive brought together education and public policy graduate students as well as education technology personnel from across the country. The subject matter of the event was how data can help improve educational outcomes for Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds? As expected, such a thought-provoking question quickly led to follow-up questions such as: 

  • How can big data help improve inequities in our education system? 
  • How can communities best ensure the postsecondary success of their students? 
  • How can access to actionable postsecondary data visualizations, help educators assess impact and refine best practices? 

Gates Notes Deep Dive: How data can improve education 

“Education data in the United States is often incomplete, incompatible, or difficult to use. It doesn’t always focus on the most important outcomes or the students who are most likely to be left behind like Black and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds. In an ideal world, Educators would be able to look at each student individually, see where they’re falling behind, and connect them with resources to help them catch up” said Bill Gates as he kicked off the event.  

How can big data help improve inequities in our education system?  

Big data can help improve inequities in our education system by allowing educators to identify opportunity gaps. In 2020, two-thirds of job openings are estimated to require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. However, a great percentage of college-intending high school seniors experience “summer melt” and do not end up enrolling in college in the fall. During the event, I demonstrated the use of the GuidEd Insight Outreach insights and Student Journey Report. With these two reports amongst five others (i.e. Student Success, Program Impact, College Selection, Ask the Data, and Researcher) High School Counselors and Advisors can visualize each student’s college journey to see which students are in need of outreach, and identify successful college enrollment patterns to encourage them to pursue the most promising college paths. 

How can communities best ensure the postsecondary success of their students?  

While many students are supported by their families, school, and community organizations through 12th grade, once students graduate from high school, students are largely separated from their community support system. Community members do not know what has happened to most of these students. Although college campuses track their own students while they are enrolled, many students do not pursue a linear path to college graduation and will likely take time off, drop-out or transfer to another college. Other students will pursue career paths directly out of high school without any way to track their progress or receive support in their next steps. Without data to understand where students go after high school graduation or a method for educators to assess college attainment program impact, communities face an almost insurmountable hurdle to close equity gaps in postsecondary education and training.  

How can access to insightful postsecondary data visualizations help educators assess impact and refine best practices? 

Emerging datasets and tools such as GuidEd Insight collect and organize student level data to reveal student success and areas of need thereby providing the data analysis and insight necessary for schools, districts, and community-based organizations to support the postsecondary success for each student. With the increasing availability and access to tools like GuidEd Insight, every educator is able to be mindful and literate about the need for and use of data for decision making. Researchers can save days, if not weeks, of work by not having to manually recode disparate data into research-based metrics. Superintendents and Administrators can finally gain insight to understand overall college outcomes of their students, analyze trends over time, identify equity gaps, and know which colleges are supporting their students best. 

It’s now a couple months after demonstrating the tool to Bill Gates and others at the first Gates Notes Deep Dive.  Thus far, Guided Insight has been launched to empower schools and districts by offering a comprehensive menu of standardized, research-based analyses of postsecondary data. The goal is to continue helping educators, advisors, and administrators leverage their National Student Clearinghouse StudentTracker data and student-level demographic, academic, and program participation data to quickly determine whether there are opportunities gaps in their student population and gain insight on where equity gaps exist in college outcomes.  

I would like to extend my appreciation to members of the deep dive design team from the Gates Foundation, Gates Ventures, and Intentional Futures for having me as a guest at the event. Thanks to this group, educators, advisors, and administrators are using the all-in-one data insights tool for the insight they need to improve postsecondary outcomes for every student.  

This post is made possible with the research of Dr. Kelly Bay-Meyer and the National Center for Educational Statistics 

Related Blog Post  

These graduate students make me hopeful about the future of education | Bill Gates (gatesnotes.com) 

Bello Dondja, M.S.WRITTEN BY

Bello Dondja, M.S.


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