Leading the Way: JFF’s Postsecondary Leaders Network Improves Student Success, Seeks to Influence Policy

Published mar. 01, 2018

Community colleges are in the trenches, grappling with the challenge of finding the best ways to help more students obtain high-value credentials.

Their efforts were evident at JFF’s 2018 Winter Meeting of the Postsecondary State Policy Network (PSPN), held January 24 and 25 in Seattle. More than 170 community college leaders from 17 states convened to share best practices for improving student success and tackle challenges to their work. Participants included directors and staff of statewide Student Success Centers, heads of state community college system offices, and presidents, administrators, and faculty of community colleges.

PSPN members aren’t waiting for solutions to trickle down from the federal government—they’re rolling up their sleeves and digging into the most promising innovations today for helping students finish college. These leaders are on the forefront of implementing guided pathways in ways that ensure all students have the opportunities and supports needed to attain credentials of value in the labor market.

Case in point: participants shared key strategies for meeting students’ basic needs so that matters of food, housing, child care, and transportation don’t impede their path to a college credential and career success.

Marcia Ballinger, president of Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio, shared insights on how LCCC provides student support services beyond tuition assistance through its replication of City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Program. ASAP is designed to provide students with a range of supports, including tuition assistance, academic and career advising, tutoring, and financial assistance to cover transportation and textbook costs. Initial results show that LCCC’s student outcomes have improved as a result of their ASAP program.

Other PSPN member states and colleges are also looking for ways to provide wraparound supports services for low-income students. But members face challenges in finding ways to strategically leverage funding streams.

To assist in this work, JFF is sharing lessons learned from Achieving the Dream’s Working Student Success Network, including its latest report on community college approaches to addressing basic needs and improving financial stability for low-income students.

Network members are also searching for ways to redesign advising and student support, build seamless pathways from high school through the completion of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, and build capacity to use and share data to inform their work.

Community colleges across the country are learning how to overcome these challenges through peer learning, but new policies are needed to help break down barriers and spur institutional efforts. Policymakers would be remiss not to learn from the successes and challenges of models like ASAP or to determine how policy improvements can address the various equity challenges embedded in our nation’s higher education system. Overarching policy changes are needed at all levels of government to help bolster, drive, and scale reforms necessary to improve student success across all community colleges.

Good higher-education policy adoption requires learning from diverse sets of college leaders and practitioners about what works and what doesn’t to improve student outcomes. JFF intends to support these learning opportunities through our Policy Leadership Trust for Student Success, an outgrowth of our PSPN. The Trust is an advisory panel of state and institutional leaders who will work with JFF to elevate practitioner perspectives on how state and federal policy can best improve student success. The Trust unveiled its policy design principles and state policy framework at the winter meeting.

In a forthcoming blog, my colleague, David Altstadt, will share policy principles and priorities. But for now, I’d encourage you to read a recent blog from one of the Trust members—Sharon Morrissey, vice chancellor of academic services & research for the Virginia Community College System.