What we did
Only 1 in 4 Nashville high school grads earn a college degree
The economy of Nashville, TN, has been booming for the last decade as the city’s famed music scene has begun sharing the stage with a growing tech industry. New businesses, top restaurants, and transplants from around the country are flocking to this hub of Southern hospitality for its promise of excitement and new opportunities.
Yet Nashville’s high school students, who are on the cusp of diving into the job market, are not keeping pace with what the city has to offer. Only about half of Metro Nashville Public School graduates enroll in a postsecondary program, with Black and Latino students enrolling at lower rates than their white and Asian peers. And just 27 percent of Nashville graduates earn any kind of postsecondary degree, whether from a two-year college, four-year college, or technical school.
That’s about half the national average. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the challenge of making it to and through college.
“If our workforce in Nashville wants a more diverse and local pipeline, we have to graduate more students from college,” says Scott Campbell, executive director of Persist Nashville.
Helping students persist in college
Campbell cofounded the nonprofit in 2019 to empower more Nashville students to earn a college degree. Persist Nashville’s goal is to double the city’s rate of college graduates. The organization uses a three-part model of coaching, community, and care to help students with the admissions process, financial aid, socioemotional support, mentoring, and whatever hurdles might crop up as they enroll in college and complete their education.
In early 2022, our Slalom Nashville team partnered with Persist to streamline a key part of this work and enable the organization to connect with more high school students. We created an automated survey that allows Persist to collect information quickly and efficiently from students—from basic demographic data to their post-secondary plans—and build relationships so the organization can support students through their studies in the coming years. Persist Nashville distributes the survey in partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools to collect data about students and connect with them before they leave the school system.
During a six-week process, we took an Agile approach to create the survey using SurveyVista, integrated to Salesforce’s Nonprofit Success Pack. The survey has built-in automations to provide follow-up information to students and assign them to dedicated Persist coaches.
By leveraging Salesforce technology, we replaced a time-consuming process that wasn’t making the kind of impact Persist hoped to achieve. Before we created the tool, the organization would get students’ names and phone numbers from the school district, then spend months reaching out to students individually to find out about their transition plans and how Persist could help. That process limited the number of students Persist was able to partner with, meaning only a fraction of Nashville’s graduating high schoolers were capitalizing on the resources the organization offers.
Now, Persist can roll out one survey to thousands of students at a time, collect actionable data about their schooling and job plans, and connect students with coaches who will support them in the years ahead.
“We’ll have more information in 20 minutes after students complete this survey than we’ve had about some of our students a year later, in terms of understanding what their career goals are,” Campbell says.
(This technology) is going to help us coach kids better. And it’s going to help our schools serve students better as well. It is a win for our students, schools, and city.
Using Salesforce to support students past ‘summer melt’
The survey tool generates automated responses to help students take the next steps toward their education plans. For example, a student who lists the college they plan to attend may get an email or text message with links to sign up for student orientation, upload medical forms, or review their financial aid package.
“Students and parents will leave school with a much clearer picture of what they need to do next,” Campbell says. And the Persist Nashville team will be able to identify which students may benefit from more intensive support. “It really will help transform our ability to coach students.”
The tool will also help Persist Nashville tackle the problem of “summer melt”— when students graduate high school with a plan to attend college but never enroll. This can be due to a variety of reasons, from financial worries to difficulties navigating the enrollment system, Campbell explains. By connecting with students and coaching them through those challenges, the organization can help more Nashvillians stay on track toward a degree.
Committed to our communities
Lauren Stark, a managing director of Slalom Nashville and native Nashvillian, says supporting Persist has been an opportunity to engage more deeply in the local community and contribute to positive change that will have ramifications across the city now and into the future.
“We have a responsibility to support the education and training needed to change the economic outlook for future generations of Nashvillians,” she says. “We love Persist Nashville’s mission and are grateful for the opportunity to leverage technology to help them make a bigger impact in the Nashville community.”
Tripling the reach
Campbell and his team plan to roll out the new survey tool to all 4,500 students who will graduate from Nashville public high schools in spring 2022. That’s a three-fold increase from the number of students they’ve been able to support so far.
Eventually they want to implement versions of the survey earlier in students’ academic experience so they can track longitudinal data. Long term, they hope to share their model with other cities to help them tackle similar challenges while continuing to make an impact across Nashville.
The technology, says Campbell, “is going to save time for Persist Nashville. It’s going to help us coach kids better. And it’s going to help our schools serve students better as well. It's a win for our students, schools, and city.”