Organizing for Success: California’s Regional Education Partnerships

March 2015

As education reforms increasingly focus on the needs of students as they cross education systems and enter the workforce, regional partnerships, or consortia, are developing across the country to meet a wide range of students’ needs. While regional partnerships have existed in different forms for decades to serve community needs, current partnerships are focusing on connecting education systems to prevent students— particularly traditionally underserved students— from falling through the cracks. Specific efforts can include: aligning curricular expectations across high school and college to reduce the need for remedial coursework; working with business partners to develop curricular pathways, degree programs, and certificate programs that will help students find meaningful employment and help regions meet workforce needs; and improving student support services to increase high school and college graduation rates.

There is a great deal of experimentation with different kinds of regional partnerships across California. This report is aimed at encouraging new and existing partnerships to learn from the growth and development of current partnerships. It highlights issues that support or impede consortia processes, their work to support student success, and their sustainability. The information used in this report came from 37 interviews with stakeholders from 19 regional consortia located throughout California. The audiences for this report are three-fold: 1) education, community, and business leaders engaged with regional partnerships; 2) state agency staff who could provide an enabling environment for regional partnerships to thrive; and 3) philanthropic organizations that support cross-sector collaboration.

While it is too early to draw conclusions about effective strategies, there are some clear implications that arose from this research. For example, representatives of all the consortia noted that building trusting relationships is one of the largest challenges faced by these consortia in the early stages, and constant attention and time must be devoted to maintaining them for the long run. Having a base of trusting relationships makes it easier to develop and maintain a common agenda to serve the larger community. The job of facilitating trust-building conversations and activities falls to the lead organization, which must be viewed as the appropriate entity for that work by all of the participating entities from the start.

This report describes the following strategies suggested by representatives of the studied partnerships:

  • Start with a coalition of the willing,
  • Focus on a few main goals,
  • Foster involvement of key leaders,
  • Leverage existing networks,
  • Create opportunities for cross-system communication and collaboration,
  • Embed activities in existing organizations, and
  • Use data to motivate action and inform activities.

The report concludes with suggestions to help state policy and philanthropic communities better support regional partnerships.

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