Duplicating or Complementing? Thoughts on Dual-Served Students

March 24, 2015

Sara Melnick, Deputy Director

"Same team! Same team!" - Common refrain of basketball coaches watching teammates competing for a rebound

In a recent preliminary analysis of the latest round of NCAN benchmarking data, we were surprised to find out that over 3,000 students appeared in the data file to the National Student Clearinghouse by more than one NCAN member. With nearly 400 NCAN members (some of them concentrated in specific metro areas) and more signing on every month, we expected some overlap, but this number, among a sample of over 100,000 records over four years, was higher than we anticipated.

There were two initial reactions to this discovery here at NCAN. The first was concern over the fact that these students are possibly being "overserviced," i.e. two or more programs were redundantly devoting resources (staff time, scholarships, services, spaces in workshops, etc.) to the same students. These students may have been receiving services from multiple programs – perhaps even the same service – unbeknownst to the programs. This scenario was distressing because we know all too well that there are many students in NCAN member-served communities who aren't reached at all because of a lack of the aforementioned resources.

The second reaction was that although multiple members are serving the same student, each of them could be providing different kinds of services. For example, a student might have received a scholarship from Program A, advice on the FAFSA from Program B, and academic advising and success services from Program C. In this case, the services provided aren't duplicative, instead they are complementary.

We don't know, yet, which of the assumptions, "duplicative" or "complementary," is accurate. We do know that the nature and frequency of collaboration and communications among NCAN members in a specific state or metro area, especially among those engaged in a local, regional or statewide network or collective impact effort, can determine which becomes true for them.

The networks and collective impact efforts, often comprised of and led by, NCAN members, represent significant efforts towards minimizing duplication and providing a comprehensive package of services to as many students as possible. Collaboration, partnership, trust and communication are key for these arrangements. And also data sharing. Unfortunately, we fear that more than one program might wind up providing the same services to the same students; this instead of collaborating to either serve more students or provide these students with services they are not currently receiving.

Over the next few weeks we will learn more about these 3,000 students, including how many programs are serving them, what services each is providing, and whether or not these services are duplicative. We also hope to have the opportunity to learn from these programs about how they collaborate and coordinate services, if at all. No matter what we learn, the case for closer collaboration and partnering among college access/success programs that are in close proximity to one another is clear. Stay tuned.

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