Lumina Foundation’s Adult Degree Completion Commitment Gives Millions of Recession-Battered Americans a Second Chance at Earning a Degree

Commitment Focuses on Creating Pathways, Services and Policies for Those with College Credit to Earn Degrees

 INDIANAPOLIS— Lumina Foundation for Education today announced a significant new commitment to advancing adult degree attainment through a series of interconnected projects that aim to engage, motivate and help students who previously have gone to college actually earn their degrees.  With 37 million adults ages 25–64—more than 20% of the working age population—having attended a college but never earned a degree or credential, these efforts to provide a second chance for these adults could be a big boost to the nation’s goal to dramatically increase college degree attainment and advance the nation’s workforce productivity.

Lumina’s commitment includes support for 19 large-scale projects that will provide leverage to efforts to educate and retrain workers who need up-skilling in order to compete for the jobs that will be created in the next decade, the majority of which will require some form of postsecondary education degree or credential.

Lumina expects these grants, totaling $14.8 million over four years, to reach some 6.6 million adults who have some prior college credits.

“There is growing evidence that adults who have gone to college but not received a degree are looking for a second chance but need the right kind of information and motivation to help them succeed,” says Lumina President/CEO Jamie Merisotis. “This vital work aligns directly with our goal to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees or credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Given demographic trends and attainment rates among young adults, it is highly unlikely that the nation can meet its growing need for college-educated workers only by focusing on recent high school graduates.”

“The North Star guiding all the administration’s efforts is President Obama’s goal that America should once again have the highest college graduation rate in the world by the end of the decade. We are aligning all our work and resources to that ambitious, but widely-shared goal. We are committed to helping displaced workers and adult learners garner the training and support they need to succeed in the workplace, especially during these trying economic times,” says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

According to Lumina’s recent report, A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, “The U.S. risks an unprecedented shortage of college-educated workers in coming years. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems estimates the need to educate nearly 300,000 more college graduates each year from now through 2025 to meet the growing needs of the workforce.”

The renewed focus on adult learners builds on previous Lumina efforts to increase the success of such students.  “We have arrived at this stage of a scale-up strategy by focusing on proven, high-quality strategies to improve adult degree completion,” says Merisotis. “These strategies include data mining to find adults with prior college credits, recruitment campaigns to motivate them to return, advising and financial assistance services, and many other efforts that can help accelerate progress toward the degree.”  

Lumina’s efforts for better serving “21st Century Students” involve partnerships at the national, state and local levels that are designed for greatest potential for scale, scope and sustainability, as well as those most likely to have the greatest impact. Examples representing the diversity of this commitment include: 

  • The Southern Regional Education Board will establish an Adult Learner Portal with information about returning to college and other resources to help individuals decide which programs are most appropriate to their needs. A key benefit will be cost savings to states that will not need to develop adult learner portals given the availability of the national portal.
  • The State University of New York (SUNY) will create SUNY WORKS, a system-wide cooperative education program across its 64 campuses in collaboration with business/industry and regional economic councils. Key strategies include working with cohorts of 375 students at five campuses per year to develop/implement credit bearing, paid co-op sites. By 2014, this will be scaled up to 20 community college campuses that will have operational co-op sites, drawing on co-op education assignments from an estimated 300 employers.
  • The American Association of Community Colleges’ Plus 50 Initiative will support efforts by 20 geographically dispersed community colleges to increase the number of learners 50 years of age and older with some prior college credits who complete credentials that are valuable in the marketplace.
  • Jobs for the Future will advance a supportive state policy framework to increase adult completion rates in occupational-technical credential programs in community colleges in three states.
  • Minnesota State Colleges and Universities will create the RAPID Completion Program, which will increase re-enrollment, degree progress and degree completion among former system students who did not earn degrees. The system has identified about 160,000 former students who attended in the last 10 years and already have 15 or more college credits. The program will expand services, particularly for dislocated workers, veterans and other adults who face situational barriers, such as family responsibilities or difficult work schedules, to help the these individuals complete college degrees. 

As part of the strategy, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education will develop a new learning network to support Lumina’s Adult Degree Completion Commitment.  It will implement mechanisms for effective national-level networking, communication and dissemination of adult completion efforts (e.g., conferences, policy briefs, lessons learned, and hosted “lab” visits to best-practice locations). The network will serve grantees and others working on adult degree completion strategies.

A list and brief description of all the grantees appears at the end of this release. To view abstracts of the grants, visit

Lumina Foundation for Education is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college—especially low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners. Our goal is to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: by identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change.

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