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Elements of Scale

Elements of Scale

Earlier this year in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Jeffrey Bradach and Abe Grindle shared nine strategies for moving beyond incremental growth to scale the impact of an organization—not just the size of a program. One of the recommendations is to unbundle program elements and scale those that have the greatest impact.

We saw this approach applied to sustaining program impact in our Career Pathways for a Green South initiative. As part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, MDC was one of eight national and 30 local organizations that received a total of $150 million in USDOL Employment and Training Administration Pathways Out of Poverty grants to support programs that help low-income and disadvantaged populations attain economic self-sufficiency through good jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. In Career Pathways for a Green South, MDC worked with four community colleges in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

The limited planning time and short two-year grant period made scalable program design difficult. While the colleges were not able to immediately expand programs into campus-wide offerings at grant end, they identified opportunities to maintain elements of the programs and thus scale and sustain the impact of this work at their institutions. The colleges did this by:

  • Taking Career Pathways for a Green South program elements to a broader student body. While the Pathways Out of Poverty grant had very specific eligibility requirements, colleges were able to use other institutional funds to provide similar services—like expunction workshops for students with criminal records—for those who did not qualify for grant-funded participation.
  • Continuing to offer curriculum enhanced with “green” skills. Central Piedmont Community College added green content to existing integrated systems technology and construction program tracks.
  • Establishing new career tracks that continue beyond the grant. Mountain Empire Community College and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College both created new associate degree options in green technology fields.
  • Exploring ways to integrate curricula from short-term, non-credit programs into semester-based programs in the college’s credit programs. Trident Technical College worked to integrate elements of their short-term weatherization training into the credit-side engineering program to reach more students.

In order to see long-term change in credential attainment and employment numbers, institutions must be able to sustain quality programming while reaching more people. Colleges participating in Career Pathways for a Green South showed that even short-term programs can be testing grounds for improved policies and practices that have long-lasting effect on institutions and students. Incorporating this learning into current practice and future planning can become a continuous improvement process that allows them to scale the impact of innovative Career Pathways for a Green South programming—strengthening both the colleges and their local economies. For more about how these colleges approached sustainability, as well as an introduction to MDC’s guidebook on scaling up effective practices, download our learning paper, Scaling the Impact of the Career Pathways for a Green South Program