Key Education Transitions

Completion for what? Aligning postsecondary education outcomes with workforce needs

John ApplegateBy James Applegate, Executive Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education

Across the nation, higher education and policy leaders are increasingly focused on the outcomes for college graduates. A college credential is more valuable today than ever. Those without them have little chance for a middle class life.

Years ago the primary focus of college opportunity advocacy groups was college access. This focus was guided by the belief that if college opportunity efforts managed to place students (especially underserved students) on a college campus, the work was done. Then, once it became clear how many enrolled students never finished, the focus rightly shifted to access and completion. Today the Holy Grail for higher education is equitable and high completion rates for all students.

Now another dimension is being added to the access and completion agenda: post-college-completion outcomes. More and more policymakers and students are asking the question, “Completion for what?”  Colleges are being asked to track and improve career outcomes for students in ways that address regional and state workforce needs.

In light of this new dimension of postsecondary education success, the Illinois General Assembly in May 2015 created the Higher Education Commission on the Future of the Workforce to develop recommendations for better aligning college credential production with current and future workforce needs within economic regions of the state. I was honored to chair this commission, which included leaders of higher education institutions, state legislators, economic development officials and representatives of business and industry.

illinois-report-arrowThe Commission released its final report on August 15. The Commission’s findings call for the following:

  • A coordinated plan to achieve Illinois’ goal of 60 percent of its adult population having a high-quality postsecondary credential or degree by 2025 (60 x 2025).
  • A publicly available statewide data system that will track and measure both employer demand and the supply of available workers with postsecondary credentials and degrees, using a regional focus.
  • Establishment of regional cross-sector approaches to engage both higher education and business and industry stakeholders as partners in economic development.

I believe the Commission’s work puts Illinois in the forefront of efforts to better align the outcomes of our higher education system with the current and emerging needs of the workforce. As a matter of fact, activities are already underway to address the Commission’s recommendations.

Report of the Higher Education Commission on the Future of the WorkforceFor example, at the September 27 Illinois Board of Higher Education meeting at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, the focus was on those recommendations and effective strategies to implement them at the regional level. Four Illinois regions — Greater Egypt, Madison County, Northeastern Illinois, and Rockford — have been selected as sites for the initial launch of the Commission’s work. Each of these regions’ cross-sector collaborations — among education, business, political, and community-based organizations — will address the following items:

  • Identify key areas of workforce need, for example, health care, energy, advanced manufacturing.
  • Assess current college credential production to meet those needs.
  • Create cross-sector partnerships to increase capacity where needed and redesign of program offerings to make them more accessible to more students, such as adults with some college but no degree.

With funding from USA Funds, IBHE is partnering with the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) to provide free technical assistance to these four regions.

These regional efforts will integrate the good work that has already been done as part of the development of the federally mandated Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) plan and the Illinois Community College Board’s Workforce Education Strategic planning process. The IBHE and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) have signed data-sharing agreements, a first in Illinois, to connect higher education and workforce data to provide a sustainable database to inform all of this work.

Thanks to the dedication of multiple state agencies and commissions, along with supportive nonprofits, Illinois is setting the stage to ensure a maximum ROI for the increases in college attainment achieved through our 60 x 2025 efforts.

Key Education Transitions

Three Reasons to Mentor for College & Career Success

Pat Roe, USA FundsBy Pat Roe, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

Mentoring helps students and professionals establish and navigate the education and career pathways that are so critical in college Completion With a Purpose®. So it’s no surprise that mentoring is a key component of several initiatives that USA Funds® supports.

I personally have been involved in mentoring — first as a mentee and then as a mentor — most of my life. I’ve written in this blog about the many ways that mentoring has enriched my life — and the broader impact that mentoring has been shown to have on student success.

As a Starfish Initiative mentor, Kathy Laderach, right, helped guide Jashonna O’Neal in selecting a college.
As a Starfish Initiative mentor, Kathy Laderach, right, helped guide Jashonna O’Neal in selecting a college.

And I encourage you to get involved too. If you’re still looking for reasons to support mentoring or become a mentor yourself, here are three benefits of mentoring that I’ve discovered in my own experiences:

You’ll help build self-confidence.
The experience of a mentor can be invaluable in helping a student who is facing barriers to success in education and in life. You likely have faced many of the same obstacles — and your advice, based on lessons from your own successes and setbacks, can make all the difference in how a student approaches roadblocks in the journey to college and career success.

You’ll smooth education and career transitions.
Your guidance and the resources you recommend can help a student determine a good career fit, and then establish the goals to achieve to find success in that career. And mentors can help students as they network and look for opportunities for work-based learning and jobs.

You’ll learn something too.
I often liken the mentoring experience to being on an exploratory mission, helping the mentee to uncover the best path to academic and career success. And that mission allows both the mentee and the mentor to think through and learn about different approaches to challenges and opportunities together.

Learn more
For more information about how mentoring is helping students reach their educational and professional goals, take a look at a few examples of the mentoring programs that USA Funds supports:

100 Black Men100 Black Men — Offers mentoring-based programs that emphasize student achievement, college readiness, financial literacy and professional networking.


Big Brothers Big Sisters of AmericaBig Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana — Connects students with mentors who help guide the students to become productive young adults.


Pass the Torch for WomenPass the Torch for Women — The Project Grow program pairs women who are college students in Indianapolis with professionals who assist them in achieving their higher education and career advancement goals.


starfish-logoStarfish Initiative — Places disadvantaged students with college-educated mentors to promote the students’ college and career success.


Youth Mentoring InitiativeYouth Mentoring Initiative — Provides support for students facing challenges by placing them with community mentors.


Ready to be a part of mentoring? I encourage you to contact a mentoring program in your community to put your wisdom and experience to work to help a student succeed.

Key Education Transitions

Workplace- and College-Ready: JAG Class of 2015

Pat Roe, USA FundsBy Pat Roe, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

The results are in, and they show that Jobs for America’s Graduates is successfully guiding at-risk students to work and postsecondary training.

A 12-month follow-up look at the JAG class of 2015 nationwide shows the strongest results in the organization’s more than 30 years of serving at-risk and disadvantaged students. Nearly all participants graduated from high school, and pursued college or a career — or both.

The chart below tells the story.


The 2015 class includes students from more than 1,000 classrooms in 32 states.

USA Funds® sponsors JAG, a state-based national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping at-risk students graduate from high school prepared to pursue postsecondary education or training or obtain employment. The JAG model includes:

  • Classroom instruction.
  • Employability skills training.
  • Mentoring.
  • Career guidance and support.
  • Summer employment assistance.
  • Student-led leadership development.
  • Job and postsecondary education placement services.
  • Twelve months of intensive follow-up after high school graduation.
As a high school senior in Delaware, KaSaundra Kane, right, from the JAG class of 2015, received support from JAG staff including Randy Holmes.
As a high school senior in Delaware, KaSaundra Kane, right, from the JAG class of 2015, received support from JAG staff including Randy Holmes.

To help expand JAG programs, USA Funds has awarded the following grants:

  • $1.25 million to expand Jobs for Michigan’s Graduates, to serve more than 1,000 students in the Detroit Public Schools.
  • $1.25 million to expand JAG Nevada to 23 additional sites, serving 1,100 students in Clark County, Nev. (Las Vegas).
  • $300,000 to expand JAG to every high school in Delaware.
  • $750,000 to expand current JAG programs in Missouri statewide.
  • $350,000 to expand JAG programs in Montana to 10 additional high schools serving large populations of Native American students.

JAG aligns with USA Funds’ guiding principle of Completion With a Purpose® by connecting at-risk youth to work experience — enhancing students’ success in postsecondary education or training and subsequent careers.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

From Motor Sports to Manufacturing, Students Experience STEM Careers

Jaree ErvinBy Jaree Ervin, Vice President of Development, Indianapolis Urban League

The Indianapolis Urban League collaborates with local schools to promote the importance of exposing students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines in the urban community. Students take part in a variety of activities — including designing their own miniature race cars — to learn about the role that STEM plays in some of Indianapolis’ most in-demand careers.

Project Ready is a National Urban League academic and youth leadership model for students in grades 6-12. One component of Project Ready, the USA Funds®-supported Project Ready STEM, provides academic enrichment activities to help students meet achievement standards, and exposes them to hands-on science activities and STEM careers.

In Indianapolis, Project Ready STEM engaged 175 students in after-school STEM-related activities during the 2015-2016 school year alone. The program provided students with experiences that promote character development along with enhanced critical-thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Indianapolis Urban League Project Ready STEM operates a 90-minute after-school program in three Indianapolis middle schools, Mondays through Thursdays, for 26 school weeks. The students enrolled in Project Ready STEM programming are experiencing firsthand how science, technology, engineering and mathematics can lead to careers in many areas that are in high demand.

Racing to learn
With support from USA Funds, students at the Project Ready STEM location at Creston Middle School in Indianapolis organized a drag race that integrated science, technology, engineering and math. The students learned about racing and careers associated with motor sports. They used the design process in an effort to develop the fastest and most reliable dragster — while staying within specific constraints.

Students conducted research on energy, friction, dragsters, design and aerodynamics. Once the research was complete, they constructed detailed thumbnail sketches of their dragsters. Then they transformed their thumbnail sketches onto a 3-D CAD program to show detailed views of their designs. Once drawings and blueprints were complete, students used appropriate tools to manufacture their dragsters.

Instructor Ryan Hendren tries out one of the dragsters created by Project Ready STEM students at Creston Middle School in Indianapolis.
Instructor Ryan Hendren tries out one of the dragsters created by Project Ready STEM students at Creston Middle School in Indianapolis.

Finally, students raced the miniature dragsters they created and compared results to determine whose design was the fastest, most aerodynamic and most reliable. Students also calculated and recorded track data such as acceleration, velocity and time. They kept detailed notes of all of their projects and sequential design steps — from conception to implementation — in their individual field journals.

Firsthand experience
Other examples of recent Project Ready STEM activities include:

  • Guest speakers, including a local financial services provider, who described the path she took toward becoming a finance major and stressed the benefits of pursuing a career in the STEM fields.
  • A field trip to the Praxair Surface Technologies manufacturing facility, where students learned how employees work to provide protective coatings for items like aircraft propellers and engines — and how the STEM disciplines play a role in that work.
  • A STEM career fair hosted by the employees of AT&T Indiana, providing information to students about STEM-related careers in fields such as information technology, engineering and construction.

The work of Project Ready STEM is in line with the mission of the Indianapolis Urban League: to assist African-Americans, other minorities and disadvantaged individuals to achieve social and economic equality.  Learn more about our five-point strategy of empowerment.

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.