Those of us living in California have been pondering the concept of ‘balance’ a lot lately, having had record-breaking rains and snow accumulation after several years of intense drought. While California’s water budget has always been subject to major swings from year to year, those swings are getting more extreme. It’s an ever-increasing challenge to accommodate the feast or famine dynamics in an equitable manner, where most Californians, regardless of location and profession, are able to live with assurances regarding their basic needs and also have the means to thrive.
Similar dynamics are in play for many nonprofit organizations in the aftermath of the pandemic, especially those of us who are active in the education space. On the one hand, the need for innovation and the demand for technical solutions has never been greater. Many educational programs and institutions obtained significant boosts in funding to help support the inclusion of more online and technology-supported options. These investments helped to mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic on students across all grade levels, especially in terms of meeting grade-level expectations for learning progress, addressing basic needs, and providing pathways to opportunity as we emerge from the pandemic.
Here at NROC, we were able to accelerate the launch of the Texas College Bridge initiative (powered by EdReady), achieving massive scale in a very short period of time, thereby helping to put many tens of thousands of students all across the state of Texas in a strong position to succeed in their postsecondary studies. We experienced similar growth among many of our other partners, and we saw increased interest in low-stakes placement, flexible co-requisite models, and other approaches that take advantage of EdReady’s online modality, adaptivity and personalization dynamics, and inherent flexibility in implementation.
Considering these events from our mission-based perspective, we were well positioned to support our new and existing partners in navigating the challenges of the pandemic while attending to the real learning needs of our students. You can read more about some of the early outcomes of Texas College Bridge.
On the other hand, all of that growth carries real costs. Here at NROC, as with student-serving programs and institutions everywhere, we had to shift our focus to ensuring that we could meet the demand. We have made significant and ongoing investments in performance and security, and we are actively reorganizing the composition of our organization—in both staff and activities—to reflect our current priorities as a scaling organization.
In our broader community, we are now seeing how declining enrollments in many sectors, coupled with increased student needs, have put additional stress on educational endeavors. Those stresses have not abated even as available funds are becoming harder to obtain. In conversations with our partners, it was revealed that many innovative and effective programs that were launched or accelerated by emergency funding are now likely to be shut down, leaving the promise of new and improved student-success practices to be set aside for some other day. Real gains in access and equity are at risk, and institutions are grappling with questions of sustainability and focus over longer time horizons.
Here at NROC, we have kept our focus on being an effective institutional partner, where we try to provide a measure of stability and a basis for ongoing innovation in the face of uncertain times and a rapidly changing technological landscape. While we are also grappling with some of the same funding pressures, we continue to pursue engagements that diversify our sources of support and allow us to augment the value of our collective work. The pandemic was certainly a significant event, but in many ways, it was simply another chapter in our 20-year journey as a nonprofit organization.
Indeed, our primary activities have shifted over time, starting with finding and curating OER to producing high-quality multimedia courseware to launching the EdReady platform to serving as an intermediary for institutional change to scaling our impact. To some extent, we executed these shifts in response to external events, such as the emergence of smartphones, the explosion of MOOCs, the ascendancy of cloud-based infrastructure, and the spread of broad-scale developmental education redesign. In each case, we considered what role we could play to improve student outcomes, support our existing partners, and extend our reach with new partners and areas of need. Through it all, we have consistently maintained our focus on the thorny problem of substantially improving student readiness and success.
We’ve embraced and managed big changes in years past, and we’re actively positioning ourselves for changes to come. For example, we are committing ourselves more deeply to regional partnerships, such as Commit! Dallas (partner to the Texas College Bridge initiative), GlobalMindED (partner for a proposed statewide initiative in Colorado), the Northern California College Promise Coalition (NCCPC), and more. Our obligations in these partnerships span a range of activities, from program design, to technical implementation, to professional development, to encouraging and managing positive institutional or systemic change.
We are also grappling with the seemingly abrupt availability of AI tools, leveraging our expertise and technical capabilities to consider how we might deploy AI-based solutions that actually improve student agency, learning, and engagement. In an effort to reconnect more fully and frequently with our large and dispersed community, we are planning to be more proactive about sharing opportunities to meet up with NROC staff face-to-face, and we’re still exploring options for bringing people together virtually and in-person to share best practices and catch up with each other’s work.
As always, don't hesitate to send me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn. I'd love to hear from you.
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