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The Power of Regional Collaboratives: Top Focus of Project Attain’s Summer Summit

Project Attain’s day-long Summer Summit held on August 9th at the Harris Center at Folsom Lake College is an annual event that brings education partners together to share, learn, and align on important systems change work that can lead to better education outcomes. This year, the event focused on adult learner success through the lens of regional collaboratives and the value that collaborative education partnerships can provide.

Dakota Pawliki, director of Talent Hubs for CivicLab, a nonprofit Institute for civic collaboration headquartered in Columbus, IN, was the event’s keynote speaker. 

“The problem exists at the center of this table – and so does the solution,” Pawliki told the audience. “Collaborations bring it all together when no one organization can tackle the problem alone.”

CivicLab is dedicated to advancing the practice of civic collaboration and complex social systems change work. Dakota discussed how designing and operating collaborative efforts and building effective and sustainable collaborations are the lynchpins to solving complex social challenges—including adult educational attainment.

Dakota’s message for education partners about the need for system change was summed up this way: If you solve the problem for one person, it doesn’t mean you solve the problem. “It’s a systems thing, not a single thing,” Dakota often points out. He went on to say that many of today’s systems were built for a world that no longer exists. If we are to reorient our systems in ways that will achieve desired outcomes, we first need to understand the purpose of the system and then identify the parts of the system to evaluate each part’s effectiveness in relation to the other parts.

“Go upstream and figure out how to solve the problem where it starts,” he said.

The Summit program highlighted two key issues, discussed first by panels of subject matter leaders and then through small group discussions. First was a spotlight on adult attainment strategies—Project Attain’s core purpose which aims to reengage the 870,000 adults in the region over the age of 25 who have earned some credentials, but have not yet completed their diploma, certificate, apprenticeship, or degree.

The second spotlight was on Sacramento’s K-16 Collaborative: A state grant-funded endeavor to advance educational equity and workforce opportunities by strengthening college and career pathways across partnerships between K-12 County Offices of Education and districts, higher education institutions, and employers.

These segments engaged a cross-section of institutional and community partners who shared promising practices and success stories, built energy and momentum within attainment networks including Degree, Diploma, Certificate/Apprenticeship, and catalyzed adult-focused cross-institutional and collective action opportunities.

“The opportunity to share information and practices that support re-engaging adults in their pursuit of educational attainment is the best example of regional collaborations at work,” said Vice President for Sacramento State’s Enrollment and Engagement, Jenni Murphy in her welcome remarks. “Project Attain believes that regional collaboration is the best and only way we advance education attainment in a real and meaningful way, and today’s Summit helps show us how.” 

Murphy is also the co-founder of Project Attain which launched in 2018 as a regional initiative, became an independent nonprofit organization in 2022, and celebrated its 5-year milestone anniversary at the Summit.

Participants’ feedback through small group discussions revealed the belief that Project Attain has the power to convene a cross-section of organizations and leaders in the region and that there is broad interest in harnessing the excitement generated from Summit conversations to increase awareness of the work Project Attain conducts. 

Finish 5000 Campaign: What could be achieved if our 2- and 4-year institutions collaborate on a regional initiative aimed to move 5000 adults with some college no degree to completion?

Participants considered what effort and cost would be associated with outreach and recruitment of adults with some college no degree, what capacity Project Attain would need to serve as a navigational clearinghouse for those interested, how aggregate impact could be reported and measured, and how to fund the work. Discussions resulted in an agreement that a unified marketing campaign would generate the awareness needed, demonstrate regional collaboration, and help to fill the applicant pipeline. 

Sacramento K-16 Collaborative: The K-16 Collaborative’s work was also featured at the Summit. 

“K-16 is about thinking regionally and collectively on behalf of better working systems for the students at every stage of their education journey,” said panelist James Todd, VP of Student Services, Sierra College Data and chair of the K-16 Sharing and Transfer Pathways workgroup. 

The Sacramento K-16 Collaborative launched in 2022 as part of the California Regional K-16 Education Collaboratives Grant Program. The Collaborative is committed to advancing educational equity and workforce opportunities by strengthening college and career pathways across California’s Capital Region through an eight-county partnership between K-12 County Offices of Education and districts, higher education

 institutions, and employers. To achieve its goals, the Collaborative has six workgroups comprised of expert practitioners from K-12 education, higher education, and industry. Workgroups meet monthly to strategize and operationalize the Collaborative’s goals.

Fal Asrani, Superintendent of Marysville Joint Unified School District and chair of the K-16 Dual Enrollment workgroup told the audience, “In order to change the economic landscape of the community, the K-16 Collaborative is incredibly powerful. We are starting to see a real change in the dual enrollment landscape by making people more informed about where the openings and opportunities are.”