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Foundations focus on scaling successful reforms

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AACC President
Walter Bumphus moderates a discussion with representatives from the Lumina, Kresge and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations.

Photo: Matthew Dembicki

Scaling up proven reform programs will be a focus over the next few years for three national foundations that are major supporters of community college student success efforts.

Representative from the Lumina, Kresge and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations on Thursday outlined for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) board of directors where they will focus their efforts and funding for community colleges. Although their strategies will vary, expanding successful programs to other colleges is a common goal, and they look to AACC — which is receiving support from them in major reform initiatives such as its Pathways Project and Right Signals — for help.

"AACC is probably our most critical partner in the next generation of our strategic plan," said Samuel Cargile, vice president and senior advisor to the CEO at Lumina, which is drafting its strategic plan for 2017-2020. Carlige and other foundation representatives spoke at the AACC board of directors retreat in Washington, D.C.

Lumina will have similar strategic priorities but how they will be implemented "will be a little different from the current plans," said Cargile, who noted that a final plan would be announced this fall.

Getting to the goal

Like several other foundations and organizations, Lumina has focused on college attainment. Its goal is to have 52.1 million Americans with a high-quality postsecondary credential by 2025. But based on current projections, it will fall short. Lumina and others are examining how to adjust their strategies to change that, Cargile said, adding that this target remains "the North Star" for Lumina.

"The 'how' is what's challenging," he said.

The Gates Foundation is also working closely with AACC and its member colleges, as they serve the same target groups, said Patrick Methvin, deputy director of postsecondary success at the foundation.

Gates plans no changes to its strategy, which includes developmental education, digital support, advising reform, emerging aid and transfers. However, implementing just one successful reform program or focusing on one area won't move the dial toward broader student success, Methvin said.

He emphasized using a combination of solutions to scale reforms, however, that requires strong leadership from college presidents and boards. And it isn't easy work. Two-thirds of the presidents at colleges implementing efforts to close success gaps have received a vote of no confidence.

To help those leaders persist, reform efforts must do a better job of linking colleges to help them expand their programs, improve explaining the goals and recruit faculty members, who are critical to success. That includes tapping organizations such as AACC in those scaling efforts.

"That is what has been missing," Cargile said. "The overarching lens is scale."

Community effort

The Kresge Foundation, which entered the community college reform arena about five years ago, is also focused on scaling programs. William Moses, managing director of education programs at the foundation, noted that there are several reform efforts, especially in development education, that have been proven to work; the key now is to expand successful programs.

"I think we're on the cusp. We know what works. We just need to scale this," he said.

Part of that includes not only expanding to other community colleges and even four-year institutions, but also tying them to local community efforts, Moses said. The foundation's "urban higher education ecosystem" initiative looks to help local colleges, businesses, organizations and agencies better align their services to help students succeed. This includes coordinating services such as housing, transportation, food, financial aid and childcare, which are often roadblocks for students to earn a college credential.

Community colleges can serve as "conveners" for such efforts, Moses said.

Several colleges that already have initiated such ties noted their successes. Monroe Community College (MCC) in New York, for example, is strengthening ties with local four-year institutions, community organizations and government agencieswhich often provide social services for it s studentsto better align their data systems.

"We're touching a lot of the same folks, but we don't realize it," said MCC President and AACC board member Anne Kress.

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