Anna Collura ’20
Internship: Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Favorite professor: James Baron
Favorite New Haven eatery: Olmo
Clubs and affiliations: Forté Fellow, Consortium member, Education Leadership Conference co-chair, Yale Philanthropy Conference organizer, Nonprofit Board Fellow, and member of Women in Management, Design and Innovation, and Human Capital and Organizational Performance
Bonus facts: Past careers include teacher and professional dancer
Before coming to Yale, I spent nine years in K-12 education as a teacher, administrator, public policy fellow, and consultant ensuring students had access to an excellent education regardless of their race, family income, neighborhood, citizenship, or exceptionality. While I was proud of my work, the relationships I formed, the communities I served, and the incremental improvement in high school graduation rates, I was alarmed by what happened to students after graduation day.
While more low-income and minority students are pursuing post-secondary education than ever before, reporting by The Pell Institute shows that overall degree attainment for these populations remains stagnant. As a result, just as our economy demands more workers with post-secondary credentials, our universities are leaving more students behind—saddling them with debt instead of empowering them with a degree.
If I wanted students in the communities I served to live family-sustaining lives, I had to address this bottleneck. I decided to pursue my MBA to gain the organizational, financial, and managerial skills necessary to help public, private, and nonprofit institutions partner to improve graduation and workforce outcomes for traditionally underrepresented populations.
In pursuit of this goal, I’ve spent my summer interning with Georgia State University’s Student Success division. GSU is the largest public higher education institution in Georgia. By the numbers, GSU (not to be confused with the University of Georgia) serves more than 63,000 students in 250 degree programs at 7 regional and online campuses around Atlanta. As the school’s enrollment continues to grow, so does its share of minority and low-income students. Today, 71% of GSU students identify as minorities, 59% as low-income, and 25% as first-generation college students. In absolute terms, GSU enrolls more minority and first-generation students than any other Georgia higher education institution and more low-income students than all Ivy League institutions combined. GSU’s student population reflects America’s changing demographics, and in light of its size and diversity, one achievement stood out.
Georgia State University is the only national public higher education institution where Black, Latinx, first-generation, and low-income students match or surpass the institutional graduation rate. In the words of its 2018 Complete College Georgia Report, “Georgia State’s achievement gaps are gone.” This accomplishment has garnered praise from public figures including Bill Gates and Barack Obama and made it a beacon of inspiration for other institutions. After watching this success play out in recent years, my lingering question was, how? How does an institution that openly admitted to failing its students a decade ago achieve nation-leading gains in student outcomes without changing state appropriations or admissions selectivity?
As it turns out, more than 300 institutions that attended GSU’s regularly scheduled visit days over the past three years had the same question. During these events, GSU shares its turnaround story, but due to time constraints, the proceedings are limited to a discussion of GSU’s philosophy, programs, and results. While GSU’s administrators generously offer their time to answer follow-up questions, it is extremely time consuming and the support they can realistically provide is limited.
Education is not a zero-sum game. The more students who graduate, the better, period. GSU’s visit days are meant to advance that goal. My focus this summer has been to address the need to provide better external support while allowing GSU to take a close look at the factors that facilitate their success.
To do this, I’ve analyzed three of GSU’s signature programs, identified the key characteristics that contribute to their effectiveness, and developed a guide to help visiting institutions think through program design, implementation, and sustainability in the unique context of their mission, resources, and goals. If done well, my final resource should free up administrator time, help GSU understand the critical components of existing programs, and help visiting institutions design and implement scalable student success programs—thereby helping more students earn their degree.
Acting as an internal consultant, I spent my summer analyzing data, reviewing literature, observing programs, interviewing stakeholders, and utilizing learnings from across my core courses. Drawing from Customer, I analyzed survey data and interviewed administrators to identify the end users’ most common requests to ensure my product satisfied the current demand. I used learnings from Innovator to trace the cycle of GSU’s program development, most of which started off in small, low-stakes pilots before being scaled up for institutional impact. Leveraging the PARC framework, I identified each program’s people, architecture, routines, and culture highlighting the interactions that facilitated success. Referencing concepts from Employee [now called the Workforce], I examined how GSU reshaped existing roles, employee training, and incentives to align with its focus on student outcomes, developed consistency across teams and departments, and appointed leaders to strengthen the credibility of new initiatives. For my final month, I’m excited to use my Competitor and Investor learnings to design proposals for how GSU can continue to provide unique value to the state, regional, and national higher education sector as well as tools for students to consider financial aid options in the context of career and future earnings data.
I am grateful for my peers and donors to the internship fund who helped make this summer experience possible, as well as to all of those at GSU who welcomed me in and contributed to the project. I’m looking forward to applying my learning on campus this fall and look forward to refining how to continue this work after my own graduation.