Making College…and Research Count

Let’s face it: even the most groundbreaking research can be a little bit dry. Our job as communications professionals is to add the human dimension. That’s exactly what we did for the recent launch of College Count$.

CollegeCount$ is an innovative research project that documents the impact of a program in Arkansas that prepares recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families for jobs that require associate degrees or professional certificates. Dubbed the Arkansas Career Pathways, the program connects low income residents to high-demand jobs.

Most of Arkansas Career Pathways participants are single mothers who face significant barriers to completing their education. The program solves this by providing nontraditional, but extremely effective personalized support throughout their college experience – such as tutoring, mentoring, childcare assistance or gas cards.

Has the program been successful?

You bet. Participants earn associate degrees or technical certificates at more than double the rate of the general community college population in Arkansas. Participants also received a significant boost in wages when they entered the workforce.

How do we know?

This is where research comes in. The team in Arkansas was seeing great success stories. They could see with their own eyes how they were transforming the lives of at-risk adults. And they knew that other community colleges across the country could embrace their model and achieve similar, incredible results. However, to make this point with the right audience of policymakers and business leaders – they needed hard evidence.

What did the research look like?

Solid as a rock: the College Count$ study was conducted by Metis Associates, a nationally recognized research firm. Research methods used in the study all comply with the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse guidelines for evidence-based programs.

After achieving this high standard in its methodology, the College Count$ team brought in DG+CO to make the research sing. We branded the entire project with a new name and logo:

We launched the custom-designed website CollegeCounts.US – featuring compelling statistics, a way to keep in touch with the project’s leaders, and the faces of students whose lives had been touched by the program:

We created an infographic that broke down complex data into more digestible components:

We also helped to organize a launch event with government officials, policy experts and local employers and pitch the report to local Arkansas media and trade outlets.

Why put a face to research?

This project reinforced in our minds the need to give research coherent brand identity. Consider U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of colleges, or Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World” ratings, or the newer State of the News Media study from the Pew Research Center. All these studies have their own names, calling cards, and online homes. The public and the press look to their authority because they clearly state their purpose – and, better yet, they maintain consistent metrics that can be compared over time.

We can’t emphasize enough the important of research to document the impact of nonprofit programs. But if there’s only lesson we’ve learned again and again – it’s that a fully realized brand can make research stand with integrity.

Read the full DG+CO Spring Newsletter