EEE TIG Week: Chelsea Hetherington on Evaluating the Impact of Extension Pre-college Programs

My name is Chelsea Hetherington and I’m an Evaluation Specialist with Michigan State University Extension. One of the many benefits of Extension work is that we reach people in local communities all around the country, but we also have the connections and resources of a big university. Several MSU Extension youth programs specifically focus on equipping youth with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful in college. For some programs, like 4-H Exploration Days, youth come to MSU’s campus for several days and stay in the dorms, attending sessions on different topics of interest and experiencing college life. In other programs, like 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp, youth spend a week learning about environmental science, like fisheries and wildlife, ecology, and forestry, while also exploring careers and connecting with experts in these fields.

Post-event evaluations show that these programs equip youth with important college readiness skills, like time management, independence, collaboration, and increased knowledge of career fields and college majors. Still, as pre-college programs, a primary goal for these programs is that participation will increase youth’s enrollment in college and subsequent degree attainment.

Rad Resource: National Student Clearinghouse has been an incredible resource for tracking past pre-college program participants. For a small fee, we submit records of our past program participants to National Student Clearinghouse on an annual basis. National Student Clearinghouse returns reports that tell us how many program alums are enrolled in college, as well as what schools they attend. We also re-submit records 6 years after youth graduated high school to get reports on whether they’ve earned a college degree in that time. This data has been instrumental in demonstrating the value of our programs – we can show that alumni of Michigan 4-H pre-college programs are more likely to enroll in college on time and earn college degrees.

Hot Tip: Many states publish statewide education data that reports residents’ rates of college enrollment and degree attainment, and this data can be used to compare those rates for pre-college program alumni. In Michigan, this data is maintained by the Michigan Department of Education and is published online at MISchoolData.org. Data can be parsed out in a number of different ways, which has allowed us to report comparison data by high school graduation year, by county, school district, and more.

Lesson Learned: Leveraging existing data sources can be a great way to present powerful data without needing to track down individual participants. Good record keeping is key in this process! Make sure you keep detailed, well organized records of past program participants, as well as important accompanying information (for us, this includes their date of birth as well as their county of residence).

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Extension Education Evaluation (EEE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the EEE AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EEE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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