• Laura Johnson Head Shot 2014
Categorized As:
Education & Talent

Celebrating Postsecondary Success

As the Economy League continues to focus attention on how we need to improve to become a World Class region, we believe it’s also critical to celebrate success. So we were especially excited earlier this month to see the University of Delaware, the Philadelphia Education Fund, and Independence Blue Cross honored for their outstanding work to improve college access and degree completion in Greater Philadelphia.

The honorees were chosen from a strong pool who applied for the first-annual “Regional Challenges” issued by Talent Greater Philly. Convened by the CEO Council for Growth, Talent Greater Philly is a group of more than 20 local stakeholders who came together four years ago to compete against 56 other regions for the Lumina and Kresge foundations’ $1 million Talent Dividend Prize. The prize will be awarded next year to the region with the largest increase in the number of post-secondary degrees granted. Win or lose -- Talent Greater Philly’s collaborative work will continue through a recently announced $200,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation.


In reviewing the Regional Challenges applications, it's clear why Lumina would want to invest here. Aside from the stellar efforts of this year’s three winners, there were many other submissions that highlighted innovative approaches -- particularly on the higher education side. All of them achieve success by applying the right strategies for the right population and map to three basic approaches: 1) getting high school and out-of-school youth on a pathway to postsecondary success; 2) providing intensive supports for first-time, low-income or minority first-year students; and 3) supporting those with some college to complete their degrees. Examples of these efforts are provided below.


Engaging Young Adults


  • At Summer Search, staff identify Philadelphia high school sophomores who occupy the “invisible middle” – youth who, because they aren’t high performers or the trouble makers, are often over-looked. Summer Search employs full-time, trained mentors who work with these young people to build character and leadership skills to get to-and-through college. Youth are also provided full scholarships to summer programs like Outward Bound and individualized college and financial-aid advising to ensure they stay on track to complete their degree.

  •  Temple’s Center for Social Policy and Community Development offers, among a broad range of other programming, a program designed to create a pipeline for youth from GED to college. As youth prepare for the GED, program staff set explicit college going-expectations by providing opportunities to go on college tours and take college prep workshops. To help these students take the next step, staff work with them to secure scholarships to local colleges.

Providing tailored services to first-time, low-income or minority students


  • In 2009, a review of the Community College of Philadelphia’s institutional data revealed that African-American males had the lowest persistence rates and the lowest passing rates of required first-year courses of any group. Senior leadership made a strong commitment to address this issue, and with a significant investment from the USDOE, developed the Center for Male Engagement. This two-year program provides intensive summer programming to build camaraderie and connections among staff and fellow students. Once they return to campus, they are assigned a Support Coach who works with them for the full two years it takes to get their degree and helps them navigate the process of transferring to a four-year institution.

  • Through a 2008 Lumina grant, Chestnut Hill College set out to identify and implement strategies to increase the success of its underserved student population. In addition to designing a comprehensive set of ongoing faculty trainings and student workshops, the College developed a Professional Practices Seminar course that is now required for new Continuing and Professional Studies students who enroll with fewer than 15 transfer credits and/or who have been out of school for 10 or more years. The course focuses on developing educational goals and applying classroom knowledge to the workplace. Importantly, students get three credits upon completion, so they’re not spending money on a course that won’t count toward their degree.

  • At Delaware County Community College, staff adapted a successful model from Cabrillo Community College to fit the learning needs of its student population. The Academy of College Excellence program targets underprepared, at-risk students and aims to provide a transformative learning environment that puts students onto a pathway of success. DCCC is now the East Coast training site for other colleges interested in the model and is in the process of training additional faculty to employ aspects of the program in their regular classrooms.

Supporting “comebackers” (adults with some college) complete their degree


  • Peirce College is a regional leader in serving comebackers – in fact, of its 2,247 undergraduate students, only 30 are first-time, full-time students. In 2010, Peirce College began a partnership with the School District of Philadelphia’s Parent University to increase college access and advance the skills, knowledge, and resources of families with children enrolled in the Philadelphia School District. Peirce delivered a customized associate degree program designed to establish the building blocks of life-long learning and career success, and ultimately position graduates for transfer to a BA program at Peirce or another regional institution.

  • To serve its returning adult population Richard Stockton College developed its “REAL” program (Reenrolling Adult Learners) in 2012 to address the financial and academic barriers that prevent students from obtaining degrees. The program helps to cover outstanding fees that have prohibited students from taking additional courses and provides instructional materials and textbooks to students in need.

  • Thomas Edison State College was founded in 1972 with the explicit mission of providing diverse and alternative methods of serving older students. The College employs innovative strategies to serve this population, such as a two-day turnaround on transcript evaluation and credit award recommendations -- a process that can often take weeks, if not months. In addition, for the last 25 years, the College has hosted the National Institute on the Assessment of Adult Learning, which provides an intensive learning experience for education professionals.

With such an impressive group of applicants this year, we're looking forward to what 2014's call for submissions will bring. (Applications will be available in mid-January, so spread the word!) In the meantime, we'll continue to work with Talent Greater Philly stakeholders to keep regional focus on the progress we're making toward our shared postecondary goals.