The Center for Community Analysis at New Mexico State University was established in 2016 through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and is housed in the Office of Institutional Analysis on the NMSU campus. The CCA is charged with providing research and analysis for evidence-based decision making in Doña Ana County.
“There has been no central repository in our county that I know of, whose sole purpose is to centralize, analyze and disseminate data to the community in order to improve evidence-based decision making and collective impact efforts,” said Erica Surova, CCA program manager. “This lack of a centralized data unit has made it very difficult for community organizations to share data and collaborate efficiently. Consequently, we see children and families slip through the cracks and needs go unmet.
“We live in an age where we have more access to data than ever before, but it isn’t always being used or communicated effectively,” she said. “Our goal is to inform and educate, so data can be used for actionable, positive results. Our goal is to also attract partnerships with other organizations and expand our services beyond Doña Ana County. We recognize there is a need for data analysis in more rural areas of New Mexico as well as the borderland region.”
Despite its young existence, the CCA has recorded significant achievements. It created the early childhood education gap analysis, with assistance from its early childhood education partners. Surova said this information is crucial because access to quality early childhood education from birth until 8 years of age is vital to brain development and socio-emotional learning.
The report found very low numbers of children in Doña Ana County participate in free or subsidized early childhood education programs – 36 percent under 5 years of age and only 21 percent 2 years of age and younger. The results also stated that about 70 percent of children under 6 may need a free childcare assistance subsidy with only 21 percent of children currently receiving that assistance. This data is now being used for a county-wide early childhood education referral system that will help families overcome obstacles to finding services for their children.
Surova said one of the surprises she’s found in her work is the impact high-quality learning has on a child’s developing brain.
“I think most of us don’t realize the achievement gap that we see in third grade reading scores, high school graduation rates, and even at the university level, has been identified as early as 18 months of age,” she said. “Using data like this to change access to early childhood education could dramatically change the life trajectory of many New Mexicans, as well as save the state large sums of money that is now dedicated to fixing problems after they have already occurred. Instead of using data to fix problems, we could use data to prevent problems.”
With a high demand for community data, currently the CCA only has two staff members, Surova and a graduate student.
“The biggest challenge is growing the center with enough staff to keep up with the community demand, which is already high,” she said. “Gathering, preparing and analyzing data, especially data that is very specific to our community, is a time-consuming process.”
Interactive data dashboard and reports about the county and state are available on the CCA’s website at http://cca.nmsu.edu.