Strong Start to Finish, a new network of postsecondary education leaders and philanthropies, has announced the launch of a campaign to boost college graduation rates among low-income students, students of color, and returning students.
With $13 million in initial funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates, and the Kresge Foundation, the campaign aims to increase the number of students who successfully complete math and English requirements in the first year of college and enter a program of study. Research has shown that when students get off to a strong start in their first year, their chances of success in foundational courses triple, making them much more likely to graduate with a degree, license, or certificate. Currently, U.S. college students spend $1.3 billion a year to take developmental classes in which they earn zero credit and which many fail to complete, ending up with significant debt and no degree.
To address the problem, SSTF will award three-year grants of up to $2.25 million to higher education systems in support of reforms designed to place the vast majority of students directly into credit-earning courses with the necessary support; ensure that students' introductory English and math courses are rigorous and relevant to their intended majors; and support students' academic decision making and timely completion of their programs of study with data analytics.
"Despite important improvements, our postsecondary education system still lacks equity for low-income students, returning adult students, and students of color," said Brian Sponsler, vice president of policy at Education Commission of the States, which is overseeing and coordinating the SSTF network. "Too often, these students languish in developmental courses, accruing debt while being prevented from making adequate academic progress toward credential completion."