May 8, 2017

Read Time

This article by Bill DeBaun originally appeared on National College Access Network.

NCAN recently closed the Call for Proposals period for our National Conference that will take place in San Diego from Sept. 11-13, marking an exciting time of the year for us here at NCAN. We look forward to reading about ideas from members and non-members alike across all of the different threads of the college access and success field. We read about exciting ideas, thoughtful approaches, new research, and (near and dear to my heart) how we evaluate what is or is not working. Proposals flood in from every corner of our field and the country.

And this year we definitely do mean flood.

When the Call for Proposals period ended, we had 320total proposals for the 2017 NCAN National Conference! Let’s put this in context: That’s 68more than the 256 we had last year, an increase of 27 percent. This isn’t a blip, either. In 2016, we received 65more proposals than we did in 2015, an increase of 34 percent!

The conference track with the most applications this year was “Postsecondary Access and Readiness,” followed by “Student Success in Postsecondary Education.” A table with the total number of proposals and percentage of overall proposals appears below.

  • Postsecondary Access and Readiness: 17%
  • Student Success in Postsecondary Education: 15%
  • Networks and Collective Impact: 14%
  • Research, Data, and Evaluation: 12%
  • Equity and Opportunity: 12%
  • Connecting College and Career Success: 12%
  • Financial Aid and Literacy: 10%
  • Management and Leadership: 5%
  • Policy and Advocacy: 3%

Last year, NCAN added “7-14-28” sessions to the conference lineup. Each one includes several similarly themed presentations that can last no longer than seven minutes each. Presentations may have no more than 14 slides, and the text on those slides cannot be smaller than size 28. These were remarkably well-received by conference attendees in 2016, as they allowed attendees to get rapid exposure to a number of approaches and lessons all within the same topic. We are pleased to announce that the 7-14-28 sessions will be making the trip to San Diego. This year, 67 of 324 proposals were for 7-14-28 presentations, roughly 21 percent of the overall sample.

The tough part begins now for NCAN staff and member readers. Despite a record number of proposals on-hand, we only have somewhere between 85 and 95 conference slots across the ninetracks. The number of slots varies from year-to-year according to the size of our conference venue, and the number of sessions we will offer per track depends on which topics NCAN staff and member readers feel we should emphasize. This year, for example, because of our work with the Strada Education Network on integrating career success into college access and success programming and members’ demonstrated interest in the topic, we want to be sure we have plenty in that area. At the same time, we want to ensure that there is something for everyone. It is a delicate balance, to say the least.

NCAN staff have been poring over the proposals, with each receiving at least two reads. The rest of the process works like this: Staff gather together to assess the proposals, topic coverage, and any tweaks we would like to suggest to proposals. Then we get input from member readers on which sessions and topics they believe will be most relevant to conference attendees. After the dust settles, we send congratulations to those whose presentations we select and condolences to those we were unable to fit in. We often consider proposals for which we are unable to find a slot for a webinar later in the year, which provides presenters another opportunity to share their work.

Why go into all this detail about call for proposals? First, it is a matter of transparency. Potential presenters put a lot of preparation into their proposals, and they deserve to have some sense of where that effort goes. Second, we want to share the good news about the volume of proposals we have received; we are sure this will contribute to our best national conference yet in San Diego!