Institutions of postsecondary education aren’t islands, and they can’t pull off the completion agenda in ivory-tower isolation. In recognition of this, cities are joining forces with the colleges and universities that call them home in “Community Partnerships for Attainment,” with Lumina Foundation support. Lumina’s aim in funding this program is to develop place-based partnerships among political leaders, the business community, and education institutions at both the secondary and post-secondary levels, along with other entities like organizations that support youth, local foundations, college access networks, and community organizations. This supports their overall goal as a funder: increasing the number of Americans with high-quality higher education credentials to 60% by 2025. As of this year, 75 cities around the country have joined Community Partnerships for Attainment. NGLC got an inside look at what’s happening at a Learning Lab for representatives from several of these cities this summer, when we presented lessons learned from our first wave of postsecondary building blocks innovations, evidence-based practices for using technology to support student success.
Teams in attendance hailed from eight Community Partnerships cities: Albuquerque, NM; Boise, ID; Boston, MA; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; Houston, TX; Philadelphia, PA; and St. Louis, MO. Over the course of a two-and-a-half day event organized by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), these teams engaged with one another, describing how they are supporting postsecondary students by building cultures committed to student success, designing programs that support students from arrival through completion, and strengthening community partnership initiatives focused on student success.
The lab participants considered postsecondary student supports, within the institution and beyond it, of four types:
- Academic supports: for instance, in St. Louis, recent or aspiring high school graduates have access to the “St. Louis Graduates High School to College Center, ” a counseling center open exclusively during the summer months to provide free help with colleges admissions and financial aid application.
- Personal and/or social supports: for instance, the Denver Scholarship Foundation encourages students seeking to transfer from the Community College of Denver to either the University of Colorado Denver or to Metropolitan State University of Denver its SEED program (Students-Empowered-Educated-Determined), which can help them with tours, application completion assistance, fee waivers, degree planning, and tutor and peer mentoring.
- Financial supports: participants learned about the “Beyond Financial Aid” toolkit, designed to help higher education institutions analyze and strengthen their capacities to provide financial supports for low-income students that go beyond grants, scholarships, and loans.
- Career supports: for instance, the Career Exploration Initiative in New Mexico aims to connect middle school through college students to community partners that can offer internships, job shadowing, and other ways for students to gain a sense of the world of work as they plan for their college educations.
In addition to learning about one another’s successes and innovations, a consultancy model of discussion allowed teams to pair up and share their problems of practice with each other. Fresh perspectives emerged as committed, engaged people from culturally very different cities considered one another’s issues and offered insights: Boston’s team, for instance, raised an issue from their relatively compact urban area quite unlike that brought forward by the group from vast and sprawling Houston. The program concluded with a team debrief and the construction of action plans. It was clear to everyone in attendance that the journey is just getting under way – but road maps are in development.