Addressing College Attainment and Workforce Needs Through Collaboration

By  - 
Photo by Hannah Busing

Recognizing gaps in educational attainment and growing needs in the workforce, Complete College America (CCA) — a national nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to higher education — is leading an accelerator program with key stakeholders to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for underserved student populations.

Given that nearly 90% of underresourced and 56% of first-generation students do not graduate college within six years, according to EAB (formerly the Education Advisory Board) and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators’ Center for First-Generation Student Success, it is vital that institutions and policymakers at the state level work to advance student success. This is the primary goal of the Complete College Accelerator, which partners CCA with more than 80 colleges and universities and 11 state agencies.

The accelerator looks to achieve its mission by implementing research-based policies and practices on college campuses to improve data-collection capacity, assess institutional performance, and create or enhance programs that support student career and educational outcomes. The initiative also emphasizes the importance of addressing the unique challenges faced by first-generation students, those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and individuals from historically marginalized communities.

“While persistence and retention are finally returning to pre-pandemic levels at both two-year and four-year institutions, there are troubling gaps in access, completion, and career outcomes that continue to persist for students from underserved communities,” says CCA President Yolanda Watson Spiva, PhD. “As institutions and economies continue to shift following the pandemic, taking action now is critical to long-term success.”

The effort is funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Intermediaries for Scale initiative, which seeks to eliminate racial and income-based disparities in higher education and build a greater, more diverse workforce through policy and collective efforts between more than 300 institutions over five years.

In addition to its accelerator program, the nonprofit also operates the CCA Alliance, a collective of 51 states, cities or regions, and state higher education systems that collaborate to meet similar goals to the former program, but on a more widespread, policy-focused level.

Two recent additions include the state of New Jersey and the State University of New York system, in September and December 2023, respectively. Both are focusing primarily on improving degree completion and the timeliness of graduating with economically valuable degrees and credentials.

“Building a more inclusive and equitable economy means putting affordable college options and credentials within reach for every New Jerseyan, regardless of their background,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a press release. “New Jersey is firmly committed to ensuring that every student in our state has the financial, academic, and social support needed to successfully complete college with a high-quality credential. Joining the Complete College America Alliance reflects our belief that economic prosperity and educational attainment are two sides of the same coin.”

The efforts of the alliance and accelerator program were key topics of discussion at the CCA 2023 Annual Convening in mid-December 2023 in Las Vegas. The convention, which was themed “Future Ready,” featured discussions on how to advance equity in higher education through legislative efforts, promote diversity in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on race-conscious admissions, and address economic and social mobility by building more representative workforces.

By fostering innovation, promoting equity, and driving systemic change, CCA and its partners are working to expand access to educational opportunities and empower students from all backgrounds to achieve their full potential.