Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Catching Up With Higher Education Innovation

Carol D'Amico, USA FundsBy Carol D’Amico, USA Funds executive vice president, National Engagement and Philanthropy

This week I had the pleasure of addressing the 13th annual meeting of the Presidents’ Forum, a group of leaders from adult-serving postsecondary education institutions and programs that are working to advance the recognition of innovative practices and excellence in online learning.

Presidents Forum, National Forum fo rAlternative Paths to LearningI shared examples of USA Funds’ support of innovative new practices as part of our focus on Completion With a Purpose®, to ensure students are getting the most out of their college experiences and obtaining the education they need to align with their career aspirations and life goals, including the following:

  • Montana’s Prior Learning Assessment initiative is helping returning veterans of our Armed Services accelerate their completion of postsecondary programs and enhancing their employment opportunities. By validating their prior learning and experience, and granting academic credit for that experience, the program is improving graduation rates and reducing student expenses.
  • WGU Nevada is helping nontraditional adult learners enhance their skills and realize their dreams. For example, WGU helped a working adult who had dreamed since childhood about becoming a teacher. Once she entered the professional world, her schedule prevented her from pursuing a traditional postsecondary program. Thanks to WGU Nevada’s online, competency-based programs, the student was able to complete a bachelor’s degree in two and a half years, leading to employment as a special education teacher.
  • Missouri’s innovative approach to enhancing student success includes offering this competency-based model of learning through traditional campuses throughout the state.

Clearly, the college experience is different now than it was just 20 years ago. It is being redefined year by year and the sands are shifting beneath our feet. Students can study virtually any subject of their choosing, from anywhere. The classroom is not only made of bricks and mortar, but also online, on the job, in the field and in the home.  And for many, the path of a four-year traditional college experience is just one possible option. They seek other options to prepare for their lives and careers in the 21st century.

Yet, one key piece of the puzzle of how best to spur innovation in higher education seems to always be missing from the conversation. We cannot continue to make decisions about improving student outcomes, spurring more innovation, helping students compete in the 21st century or a myriad of other issues, without a better understanding of what the education consumer wants and needs in this process.

Earlier this year, USA Funds decided to do its part to better engage students and alumni by entering into collaboration with Gallup to produce what will be known as the Daily Education Index. Gallup and USA Funds will be out in the world almost every day for the next several years talking to current postsecondary students and alumni as well as their families about their educational experiences to help us all get a better sense of:

  • The degree to which people are satisfied with their education.
  • How do they rate the quality of their education?
  • How well did their education prepare them for their careers and their lives?
  • Was their education worth the cost?
  • How are consumers making their decisions about education?
  • From whom or what resources did they get advice on education, and which of those people or resources was most helpful?
  • What were the main reasons for their selection of specific programs?

With the first of many reports based on these surveys scheduled to be released next March, I believe this research will provide us with critical insight into the consumers’ perspective on higher education – real life opinions that are largely ignored in the debate or creation of policy. We will be able to break this data down by standard demographics, geography, education experience, work experience and socioeconomic levels.

And we will be able to share it with educators, administrators, public officials and employers, and inform solutions that will benefit current and future generations of students.

Completion With a Purpose

Moving on to Address Today’s Higher Education Issues

Bill HansenBy Bill Hansen, USA Funds President and CEO

Earlier this week, I had the honor of joining Utah Gov. Gary Herbert in announcing the award of a $1 million grant from USA Funds® to the state to help Utah high school students prepare for rewarding careers in the state’s fast-growing life sciences industry. At about the same time, the Illinois Board of Higher Education was meeting in Chicago to announce USA Funds’ support to four regions of the state to better align higher education outcomes with the needs of local employers.

Last week, USA Funds awarded $1 million to Complete College America to enhance student advising so that college students follow a more purposeful path through education to realize their aspirations following graduation. Earlier this month, USA Funds announced a $400,000 award to the National College Access Network, to enhance the great work that the nation’s college access and success organizations already are doing to assist disadvantaged students in enrolling in college. This project will add to their services an important component on career success.

These are recent examples of USA Funds’ new direction in support of what we call Completion With a Purpose®, to enhance postsecondary education completion rates while also helping graduates more successfully launch into rewarding careers. This new direction builds upon and complements our historic work in support of postsecondary education access and success.

Many of you know that USA Funds got its start 56 years ago as a nonprofit organization that helped students and families who could not otherwise afford college pay a portion of their college expenses on credit. Using deposits that colleges and universities, foundations and membership associations placed with us, we guaranteed payment to private lenders in the event students failed to repay their college loans. We took this pioneering paying-for-college model nationwide.

When the federal government entered the guaranteed student loan program five years later through the Higher Education Act of 1965, we participated in a highly successful public-private partnership that contributed significantly to opening the doors to college to millions of students.

In fact, USA Funds supported a total of more than $250 billion in funding to help more than 22 million students and parents pay for college. USA Funds also helped tens of millions of former students who were struggling with their student loan debt to resolve their payment problems. And in our federally mandated role as a protector of taxpayer interests in the student loan program, we returned billions of dollars to the federal Treasury.

Six years ago, Congress enacted and the president signed into law legislation that dramatically changed the federal student loan program by giving the U.S. Department of Education principal responsibility for all federal student loans. Ever since, USA Funds has been moving in a new direction to address the challenges that confront students today.

A sample of USA Funds work to date in support of Completion With a Purpose includes the following items:

  • Helping more than 15,000 at-risk youth and disconnected young adults gain work experience or enroll in postsecondary programs.
  • Supporting programs that permit military veterans and Native American students to affordably enhance their education levels and career readiness.
  • Engaging with national higher education associations and 70 individual colleges and universities to promote innovative higher education practices, including adaptive learning, enhanced first-year student experiences, and improvements in academic success for students of all backgrounds.
  • Partnering with forward-looking state and local government leaders in states such as Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Virginia to support initiatives that better connect higher education to state and local workforce needs.
  • Launching with Gallup the nation’s first daily survey on critical higher education issues. Research based on these surveys will benefit students, parents, educators, employers and policymakers.
  • Supporting the launch of new online resources that help prospective students and parents make better college choices by considering the employment, earnings and overall satisfaction levels of graduates of specific postsecondary programs. Policymakers and education leaders also will benefit from information developed through this college value initiative.
  • To close the nation’s skills gap, seeding in seven local communities, with plans to expand to 40, a new model for enhancing the engagement of employers in the higher education process.
  • Helping colleges and universities that primarily serve minority students to strengthen the application of data to improve college completion rates and the career-readiness of their students.
  • Hosting with the National Urban League a national summit of leaders from government, industry and education to explore steps to improve high education results for minority students.
  • During the past 12 months, through our Student Connections℠ division, counseling and helping more than 200,000 struggling student loan borrowers resolve their payment problems.
  • Investing in organizations, such as nonprofit Education at Work, which helps students earn wages and tuition assistance to reduce their student loan debt, while gaining valuable work experience, and Roadtrip Nation, which offers students from middle school through college, as well as working adults, engaging tools for exploring and pursuing career options.

I invite you to review more details of our work, on our website. And look for additional announcements of USA Funds’ support of similar initiatives in the near future.

I believe that these efforts are timely, worthwhile and relevant to the cause of helping students enhance the lifelong return they derive from their investment in postsecondary education. They provide solid evidence that our governing board of trustees and staff of 150 employees at USA Funds are fully committed to and aggressively advancing our mission as a public charity in support of postsecondary education preparedness, access and success.

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