Lumina Grants Aim to Boost College Completion

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The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education continues its college completion improvement strategy with $14.8 million in grants over four years, divvied into 19 national, state and local projects.

Part of an overall Lumina effort to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025, these grants will attempt to provide second chances to what Lumina says are 37 million Americans ages 25-64 who started college but never finished.

Although most of the 19 grantees will use the funding to reach out to low-income working adults – including efforts by Goodwill Industries International and Jobs for the Future – the Washington-based National League of Cities (NLC) will use its two-year, $500,000 Lumina grant to address the country’s college completion dilemma as a whole, which includes services affecting both first-time and returning students.

NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Postsecondary Success Initiative, which starts Friday, will seek to spread the latest best practices and research on improving postsecondary education completion rates, and bring mayors together with local college and community leaders. 

Directly impacting 15 still-to-be-chosen cities, NLC will develop peer learning networks among mayors, college leaders and other community leaders in those cities in order to determine new strategies to get more people to not just start college, but to graduate.

The league’s network of 19,000 cities, towns and villages will have access to tools and resources on how to improve college completion, said Audrey Hutchinson, NLC’s program director for education and after-school initiatives.  “We’re going to develop a resource bank, more like an online community, so that cities across the country can come to us as a one-stop shop in the area of postsecondary success,” Hutchinson said. Examples of the types of best practices that will be disseminated are still in the planning phase, she said.

Only 20 percent of students at two-year colleges graduate in three years, while less than 40 percent of students at four-year schools finish in six years or less, according to the nonprofit research group Public Agenda.

The initiative is the latest attempt by a national alliance of government officials to address the country’s postsecondary shortcomings while framing the issue as an economic threat, what with thousands of jobs available but not enough qualified applicants to take them. This summer, the National Governors Association launched its Complete to Compete initiative, with similar goals to those of the NLC, except governors serve as the convening leaders.

The NLC, which provides various supports to America’s municipalities, has started youth initiatives in the past, including the Mayors' Action Challenge for Children and Families in spring 2009.