Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Investing in Pacific Islander Student Success

Leilani Matasaua PimentelBy Leilani Matasaua Pimentel, Director of Communications & Strategic Initiatives, Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund

Navigation is a word we often use in higher education.

But long before it became part of my profession, I knew it simply in the context of being a Pacific Islander. It evoked images of my ancestors — master navigators — exploring the open ocean on double-hulled canoes, relying only on the signs of nature to chart their path on an endless blue horizon.

I am proud to be a descendent of master navigators. And at the same time, daily I face the reality that Pacific Islander students and the institutions that serve them are navigating an entirely different ocean.

Only 18 percent of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) adults age 25 or older hold a college degree (a rate identical to African-Americans). And certain NHPI ethnic groups have even lower percentages of college graduates.

The chart available below, from the report “A Community of Contrasts: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, 2014,” has additional details. The report is from Empowering Pacific Islander Communities and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.


Adding to the complexity are the nearly 20 different NHPI ethnicities reported on the 2010 Census. NHPIs make their homes in U.S. states and territories and in freely associated states with varying geographic and economic challenges and, therefore, varying access to resources. Only in 1997 did the U.S. Office of Management and Budget mandate the use of separate data for NHPIs.

These issues are why targeted investments to institutions supporting high numbers of NHPI students are critical to the community’s future academic and professional success.

Advancing success in college, careers
USA Funds® has been a key partner in the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund’s work not only to provide college scholarships to first generation students, but also to paint a more accurate picture of our community through groundbreaking research and disaggregated data on educational attainment.

Most recently, USA Funds has supported APIASF in a first-of-its-kind project to support Pacific Island campuses in their efforts to help students effectively navigate key transitions from college to career through online education.

Funding through the E-TOPIA Project (Enhancing Technology and Online Education at Pacific Island AANAPISIs) was made available to all federally designated Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) in the Pacific Islands in a partnership with fellow AANAPISI campus and online education leader, Coastline Community College.

Four campuses participated in the project’s pilot year, working to scale Coastline’s successful online education efforts:

While it opens many doors for accessing educational opportunities, online education requires a specific level of preparedness and structure to ensure that students achieve positive outcomes. Guided by an advisory panel, Coastline Community College faculty conducted planning meetings with each institution to assess online education needs and explore potential interventions through the following methods:

  • Online tutors and coaching.
  • Structured pathways to completion.
  • A distance learning readiness tool that measures student knowledge and performance in areas identified with online success.
  • A data management system that assists with reporting and assessing program effectiveness.
APIASF Training Photo
Jonathan Liwag, director, information technology, Northern Marianas College, takes part in an E-TOPIA planning meeting in July.

After months of planning, leaders from each campus convened at Coastline’s Summer Technology Institute in Orange County, Calif., July 28-29. The event was an intensive two days full of group sessions, one-on-one discussions with Coastline team mentors, and a final E-TOPIA team meeting.

Thanks to USA Funds, the Pacific Island institutions returned to their campuses equipped with enhanced skills, a network of resources, and final implementation plans to work toward increasing college completion and successful career transition for their students this academic year.

APIASF thanks USA Funds for supporting our most underserved campuses and student populations through this critical grant. We also thank our AANAPISI partners at Coastline Community College for their support in helping future generations of Pacific Islander students navigate college and career success.

To learn more about the work of AANAPISIs, please visit

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Five Key Measures of Success in the First Year of College

Lorenzo Esters, USA FundsBy Lorenzo L. Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

As summer comes to an end, colleges and universities across the United States are welcoming new students through orientation and other freshman year rites of passage. But as many as one in three of those first-year students won’t make it back for a sophomore year.

AASCU_108X89Changing students’ experience during their first year of college is vital in improving undergraduate education in the United States, particularly for underserved populations. That’s why USA Funds® sponsors the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ groundbreaking initiative “Re-Imagining the First Year of College.”

Through the three-year Re-Imagining the First Year of College project, or RFY, 44 AASCU institutions are working together to improve the quality of learning and student experience in the first year, increase retention rates, and improve student success. This fall they are starting to implement practices aimed at improving the first-year experience for all students — but particularly for students who are low-income, first-generation, or students of color, often the most vulnerable students.

The institutions are focusing on the areas that George Mehaffy of AASCU shared with me for a Completion With a Purpose® blog post earlier this year:

  • Institutional intentionality (looking at administrative structures, budgeting, and building a culture of obligation).
  • Curriculum (infusing personalization software, redesigning courses and providing well-defined pathways).
  • Faculty and staff (creating faculty and staff incentives for working with first-year students, and creating opportunities for collaboration between academic and student affairs).
  • Students (emphasizing the noncognitive factors of belonging, mindset, advising systems and career focus for students).

Measuring success
Institutions often focus on data. But an important part of changing outcomes for first-year students is to also use that data to establish goals and measurements. Randy Swing, a higher education consultant who addressed a recent meeting of RFY project participants, summarized it best: “Creating data for the sake of creating data is useless. It should continue effective practice or initiate change or improvement. Innovation without goals and measurement is just wishful thinking.”

AASCU Keys to First Year Success Presentation cropped
Higher education consultant Randy Swing addresses the importance of measuring outcomes during a Re-Imagining the First Year of College project meeting.

To ensure that they are most effectively addressing the barriers to college success during students’ first year, RFY participants are taking the important step of developing metrics to help identify and reduce gaps in outcomes for students.

The universities will start by working toward specific goals as measured by the following data that AASCU has determined to be key indicators for first-year student success:

  1. Credit accumulation. Data show that too few students are earning the 15 hours of credit each semester that put them on the path to on-time graduation. Institutions must facilitate students’ taking additional credit hours, as well as reconsidering their policies about credit transfer, dual enrollment and life experience credits.
  2. Credit completion. Students who do not complete the courses they start risk lengthening their time to graduation and increasing their college costs, and they also drain institutional resources. Bolstering credit completion requires successful placement policies, early warning efforts, and intervention strategies.
  3. Gateway course completion. Often the foundation on which work toward a specific major is built, gateway courses have a large percentage of new students. Improvements in these courses will have a significant impact on the first-year experience and can serve as a model for enhancements in other first-year courses.
  4. Major or program selection. Students who are undecided about a major — or who select a major to which they are not truly committed — are at risk of not completing a college degree. Institutions must establish a balance between encouraging students to select a major in a timely manner and helping them to fully explore various careers and the paths of study they require.
  5. Persistence. Students who return for the start of their second year are more likely to persist to degree completion. Persistence is an indicator of students who feel successful and supported by the institution and who are progressing toward a degree.

In early 2017 each campus will report on its progress in each of these key areas, and AASCU plans a data summit to help schools fine-tune the ways they measure their success in the project. USA Funds looks forward to learning about the approaches schools take to enhance the experience of first-year college students — and to the results those efforts achieve.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

A New Kind of Dialogue on Education Solutions

John O'Brien, President and CEO, EDUCAUSEBy John O’Brien, President and CEO, EDUCAUSE

In the first community poll we conducted shortly after I joined EDUCAUSE a year ago, I heard clearly from our corporate members that they crave more engagement and meaningful conversations with institutions. On the one hand, who would argue with that goal? On the other hand, if more engagement/conversation translates to more cold calls or unsolicited emails, arguments would abound.

So it’s a balancing act to find exactly what authentic, mutually beneficial engagement between corporate and campus members looks like. But I think it’s essential to try to find that right balance, because we are clearly interdependent in many crucial ways.

Educause Annual ConferenceThat’s why I’m excited about a new offering at EDUCAUSE 2016, the Pitch IT! Challenge, sponsored by USA Funds®. We’re giving our institutional members a chance to flip the tables on the typical industry sales call. Institutional leaders get to present a significant need they feel is not met by products or services currently available in the marketplace, while industry members will be listening intently, potentially ready to step forward and partner with an institution to develop a solution. Think of it as a reverse pitch; instead of a company pitching its latest product, institutions will be shining a spotlight on the solutions they are convinced they truly need.

Pitch It ChallengeI know we use the word “partner” with abandon these days, but I’ve been around long enough to remember when “buying a product” was not called “partnering.” So I particularly love the fact that the Pitch IT! Challenge articulates both new partnership possibilities and new dialogue between EDUCAUSE institutional and corporate members.

We’ll be sharing the progress of the partnerships that are sparked by the challenge in EDUCAUSE publications, forums and communication vehicles, so the whole community can benefit. If you’re interested in participating in the Pitch IT! Challenge, you have until Aug. 31 to apply.

Originally published in EDUCAUSE Review, July 18, 2016. EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association and the foremost community of IT leaders and professionals committed to advancing higher education.

College Value

What College, University Leaders Need to Know About College Value

Lorenzo EstersBy Lorenzo L. Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

Higher education is facing more scrutiny than at any other point in recent history, with federal and state legislators, parents and students demanding more accountability and transparency.

This increased attention on higher education has led key stakeholders — students and alumni — to question the value of their degrees.

To help stakeholders understand the value of college, and to arm postsecondary institution leaders with the data they need to assess that value, USA Funds® is supporting efforts by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) to infuse college value into two leadership development programs.

USA Funds is providing $278,297 toward the effort, which targets the Millennium Leadership Initiative and the Emerging Leaders Program, AASCU offerings that each serve 150-180 college administrators annually.

Mary Evans Sias
Mary Evans Sias

To gain insight about the Higher Education Leadership for Student Success and College Value project, I asked AASCU’s Mary Evans Sias, director, Millennium Leadership Initiative, and assistant to the president, to address questions about higher education leadership, college value, and how this work will help institutions and the students they serve.

Q: Given the changing landscape of higher education, what are the most pressing competencies for future higher education leaders to lead successfully?

AASCU understands that higher education today is changing more rapidly than ever before. It is imperative for public colleges and universities, and their leaders, to be more innovative and focused with respect to building institutional capacity, improving completion and graduation rates, and improving student success and college value.

In 2015 AASCU conducted a study that identified 13 effective practices/competencies required for developing current and future higher education leaders. Those characteristics range from understanding the academic enterprise, to being entrepreneurial, to being resilient.

Given the rapidly changing demographic profiles of our public higher education institutions, the changing financial issues, and the complexity of governance issues, I’d also include the following in the characteristics of a successful leader:

  • Ability to work with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Skilled in working with boards.
  • Having a clear vision — and the ability to communicate that vision and entreat others to be a part of it.
  • Understanding of financial management and how to raise funds to support the institution.
  • Ability to develop strong leadership teams.
  • Understanding how to listen.

Q: Why is AASCU including a focus on college value in the Millennium Leadership Initiative? Why is college value important to current and future college leaders?

The 21st century college or university president must be a bold leader if the higher education environment is going to shift to a more student-oriented focus. It is essential that leaders know how to develop strategies and programs to improve student success. They must understand college value and why it is so important in addressing the reputational issues regarding the value of higher education.

A 2015 study of university reputation management found that there is incongruity between academics and the public about the role of universities. Only four in 10 public citizens see the university’s traditional role as critical to society — which means that six in 10 outside of the academy say that higher education is on the wrong track and that the role of the university must change to demonstrate real-world impact.

MLI is revising its curriculum to create a unifying framework that will concentrate on outcomes and competencies that lead to presidential success, including student success and college value. Providing focused professional development opportunities to educate and develop future college and university presidents is logical. To have that training focused on student success and college value is essential.

MLI2016 16107-313
AASCU’s 2016 Millennium Leadership Initiative has included training such as the above panel discussion on governance and working with boards, and presentations on college value. (Photo by Peter Cutts Photography.)

Q: How will you include a focus on college value in your curriculum for the MLI and ELP programs? How will you track participants’ success and understanding of college value over time?

We’ve already begun to provide college value information to MLI and ELP participants, with Mark Schneider of American Institutes for Research this year conducting presentations on the meaning and importance of college value, and how to measure it.

MLI participants are working in groups to examine leadership practices, institutional policies, and data collected from their own campuses that promote student success and college value. They will develop reports that will help inform a white paper about data that institutions are measuring to enhance student success and college value.

After participating in the college value project, MLI participants are expected to demonstrate specific leadership competencies based on student success and college value.

Q: What do you anticipate will be the ultimate outcome of your focus on training higher education leaders about college value?

The intent of MLI’s focus on college value is to help participants understand the importance of college value in today’s higher education arena. Participants will learn how to collect data on college value and how to effectively influence policies, programs and practices that will make a difference in improving the reputation of higher education institutions with the public, improve student success, and increase engagement with employers.

A fall 2012 article in the AASCU magazine Public Purpose points out that university presidents are uniquely positioned to drive bold, campuswide innovations because of the power vested in their office. The article further notes that, in an era when college affordability and degree completion are of paramount importance, the president’s role as a voice for students has never been more critical. That voice of the president must ask:

  • Are we educating students who like their experience at our institution?
  • Are we giving employers well-prepared students?
  • Are students engaged in their communities?
  • Are students earning a good salary?
  • Are graduates employed in an area/field for which they have been trained?

AASCU will help dramatically increase future presidents’ knowledge about college value and student success. That knowledge will help improve the reputation and perceived value of higher education and improve student outcomes in all areas.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

New School Year, New Approach to STEM Education in Hawaii

Beau BoiceBy Beau Boice, Project Director, Hawaii Initiatives, USA Funds

As the calendar hits Aug. 1 in Hawaii, students from around the islands will return to school. For thousands of local students, there will be a new project-based STEM curriculum provided by Project Lead The Way awaiting them — and more than a hundred teachers newly trained in the hands-on curriculum ready to help students embrace the new opportunity.

STEM disciplines include those in science, technology, engineering and math. In the PLTW curriculum, students will focus on areas of study such as pathways in computer science, engineering and biomedical science.

Project Lead the WayPLTW, the leading provider of STEM curricula at the K-12 level, has seen a steady increase in demand throughout the state of Hawaii over the last few years. PLTW provides schools a student-focused curriculum in a number of STEM fields, giving students hands-on experience in attempting to solve real-world issues.

The program allows schools to tailor the curriculum to best fit their own schools’ and students’ needs.

Addressing workforce needs
In April 2015 USA Funds® representatives had the opportunity to see the PLTW curriculum in action and to meet with Hawaii Department of Education administrators regarding the program. We understood the demand for the curriculum and how it could help address challenges that could affect the future workforce in the state.

In January 2016 USA Funds announced a $2.2 million grant to PLTW for expansion into at least 48 high schools throughout the state of Hawaii over the next three years.

The grant to PLTW is part of a $6.8 million USA Funds initiative in Hawaii to strengthen the state’s innovation economy and workforce, and expand education and employment opportunities for state residents. USA Funds’ investment in the state of Hawaii supports a talent pipeline for the STEM workforce. A $4.6 million grant to the University of Hawaii system is funding development of STEM career pathways and an improved data system to track graduates throughout their careers.

The $2.2 million PLTW grant supports costs for implementing that curriculum, including teacher training, materials and supplies. The 12 high schools selected in the first round of PLTW grantees, announced in spring 2016, will begin 19 new programs. Represented among those grantees are four different islands — Oahu, Maui, Lanai and Hawaii — and schools ranging in size from one of the islands’ smallest (Lanai High) to one of the largest (Mililani High, in suburban Oahu).

Project-based learning
During June and July, more than 160 teachers from across state began preparing for the new PLTW curriculum by attending weeklong training sessions. PLTW partnered with the University of Hawaii-West Oahu to host the training. UH West Oahu provided most of the training on its campus, with other sessions offered on Maui and Hawaii Island.

PLTW Training
Teachers from across Hawaii this summer prepared to present the Project Lead The Way curriculum.

Many teachers were nervous — but excited to take on the new challenge of presenting not only a new curriculum, but also a new project-based teaching style. As each week’s training progressed, participants saw how engaging the curriculum is for students, and many expressed that they are eager to see how students will respond to the new opportunities.

We wish Hawaii’s teachers and students all the best as they begin a new school year, with many also teaching and learning STEM disciplines in a new way through PLTW. USA Funds’ hope is that, through a concerted effort by the University of Hawaii system, business community and the DOE, Hawaii can prepare its residents for the state’s emerging STEM workforce.

College Value

New Grads Face New Realities in Launching Careers

Jeffrey Selingo, Professor of Practice/Special Adviser, Arizona State University, and Visiting Scholar, Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century UniversitiesBy Jeffrey Selingo, Professor of Practice/Special Adviser, Arizona State University, and Visiting Scholar, Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities

It used to be that a college degree was the golden ticket in the job market. As long as students graduated with some sort of credential, a solid job and a clear career track were often waiting for them on the other side.

That’s not the case anymore. For sure, a college degree is more important than ever to ensure sustainable earnings in a job market that provides few rewards for those with just a high school diploma. But even college graduates are struggling to find a foothold in today’s fast-moving global economy. Nearly half of new graduates are underemployed, working jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

New college graduates are taking longer to launch into jobs and careers today than in the past.
New college graduates are taking longer to launch into jobs and careers today than in the past.

Recent college graduates have earned the moniker of the “boomerang generation” because they are often forced to return to live in their childhood home to make ends meet. Today’s college graduates don’t achieve financial independence, defined as reaching the median wage, until they turn 30, according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. In the early ’80s, they hit that mark by their 26th birthday.

Based on my research for my new book, There Is Life After College, there are three primary reasons new college graduates are taking longer to launch into jobs and careers today than in the past.

1. The campus recruiting game has changed. In the ’80s, campus recruiting was dominated by three primary industries — manufacturing, retail and finance — and a few big corporations controlled each of those sectors. That meant the big employers set the recruiting calendar, and everyone else followed along. It was an easy process for both students and campuses to understand and plug into.

There are more employers today, each of them recruiting fewer students, and all of them have specific needs and different timetables for students to keep track of. Companies that build things no longer dominate the economy; business and professional services that reorganize those old-line companies now do.

Nonprofit and government agencies also loom over hiring in a way they didn’t in the past. Teach for America, AmeriCorps and several other nonprofit organizations fill spots in the top 15 destinations for graduates today. None of those spots were occupied by nonprofit groups in the ’80s. In a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, more than 40 percent of the class of 2014 said they wanted to work for the government at the federal, state or local level.

2. Employers want job skills, not just a degree. In the old days, Fortune 500 companies put new hires into “rotational programs” that allowed them to move around different departments to learn about the company and its culture, as well as various jobs. Many of those programs have been eliminated, even as employers have raised the bar on the skills workers need to start a job on Day One.

Young adults are largely on their own to acquire those skills in college, and they often come through outside-the-classroom activities, such as undergraduate research, student activities and athletics, service learning, and most of all, internships.

Internships are now a critical cog in the recruiting wheel for Fortune 500 companies and for many smaller companies too. Today employers hire as full-time workers around 50 percent of the interns who had worked for them before they graduated, according to the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. At large companies (more than 10,000 employees) and in some industries (construction, consulting, accounting and scientific services) the share of interns who get full-time offers is growing every year, closer to 75 percent at several of them.

This new emphasis on the internship has upended the traditional recruiting calendar on campuses nationwide, and not only at the elite universities. With more companies hiring from their intern pools, recruiters have shifted their attention from hiring soon-to-graduate seniors as full-timers to scoping out juniors, even as early as the fall term, to be interns the next summer.

“There was a time when 50 employers came to recruit for interns,” said Patricia Rose, director of Penn’s career center. “Now we have 180. They want to wrap up talent before anyone else.”

3. A fast-moving economy means students and colleges need to keep up and evolve. Entire industries have been disrupted by technology and globalization in recent years, even stalwarts like law, accounting and medicine. Yet colleges are under more pressure than ever to help their students find precise routes into careers, even when those routes don’t exist anymore.

In a 2015 survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education, two-thirds of college leaders said that more discussions about job preparation were occurring on their campuses compared with just three years earlier. Entire industries are disappearing almost overnight, and legacy companies are quickly changing course. In one recent year, Procter & Gamble hired graduates from 86 different majors at Michigan State University, reflecting both their new lines of business and their eagerness to hedge their bets to find the right match.

Higher education is quickly becoming less of a phase we enter at 18 years old and exit at 22. Instead, the idea of college is turning into a platform for lifelong learning that we will step off and on when we need further education and training to get ahead in our jobs or switch careers.

Helping students understand these new rules around launching into careers after college will help them better prepare themselves for today’s job market and get more value out of their degree.

College Value

Education Forum Spotlights Value of State Partnerships

Anna Gatlin, USA FundsBy Anna Gatlin, Vice President, National Engagement and Strategic Communications, USA Funds

The recent Education Commission of the States annual forum helps illustrate how USA Funds® is partnering with governors and other state policy leaders who share our mission of ensuring that students complete their education with a purpose.

USA Funds sponsored and participated in the ECS event in Washington, D.C., which included three days of diverse and thought-provoking presentations and panels.

This forum and the policy and technical support ECS provides to states make them a natural partner for USA Funds’ Completion With a Purpose® efforts. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, the current chairman of ECS and one of our state philanthropic partners, kicked off the forum by discussing his chair’s initiative: improving student success through dual enrollment.

National Forum on Education PolicyThe national forum promotes policy ideas that have proven results in moving students through their educational paths and on to successful careers. ECS focuses on presenting best practices both in K-12 and postsecondary education, while also supporting states through technical assistance.

As a USA Funds grantee, ECS has worked to promote promising and impactful options for states to improve their financial aid policies. The organization also has created a 50-state database of the largest state-funded financial aid programs. ECS also provides technical assistance to states that want to rethink and improve how to use state and federal funds to promote educational success and completion. (ECS currently is accepting requests for technical assistance through this USA Funds-sponsored program. Complete an interest form by Aug. 1 to learn more.)

To date, this USA Funds-supported work has yielded the following results:

  • Nine thousand downloads of a national expert task force report.
  • Technical assistance for six states.
  • Engagement with over 20 states regarding these best practices.
  • The promotion of the findings of this work at national events and forums.

During the forum, ECS shared information about this ongoing work and the partnership with USA Funds, and discussed additional opportunities that states will have to join this movement to better translate financial aid into student success.

College value
Derek Redelman, USA Funds vice president of policy and research, participated in a panel, “Measuring College Value from the Consumer Perspective and Beyond,” which spotlighted USA Funds’ college value initiative. This multi-state effort aims to provide all consumers — policymakers, higher education leaders, and students and families — with better access to both quantitative and qualitative outcomes of their education options. The consumer voice is heard loud and clear in so many other venues, and USA Funds is committed to providing opportunities for consumer feedback to shape educational opportunities.

The ECS college value panel featured USA Funds partners Brandon Busteed of Gallup and Mark Schneider of College Measures. They joined members of the business community, who shared how information tools, and their potential impact for various audiences and users, are reshaping the discussion about the value of a college degree. As part of our college value efforts, USA Funds has provided $3.5 million in grants, and our grant recipients currently are working with nearly a dozen states.

Among the college value initiatives discussed by the panelists is the recently announced Launch My Career tool. Colorado and Tennessee have announced Launch My Career websites for their states. These sites are distinctive because they incorporate the following elements:

  • Use state longitudinal data on education and workforce outcomes.
  • Measure outcomes at the program level, rather than the institutional level.
  • Compare the costs of an education with the returns from employment and wages, as well as qualitative measures like job satisfaction and community engagement.
  • Analyze supply and demand to help demonstrate whether the production of specific academic credentials meets employer demands.

We are hoping to share these tools and add more states to the movement in the coming months.

This ECS forum is a great example of states coming together to share what’s working and to learn from national experts. Our work with states and with partners like ECS to support state-led efforts continues to be a critical partnership in advancing Completion With a Purpose.