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Lumina announces grants to 9 states to advance quality and equity in post-high school learning

By Debra Humphreys and Terri Taylor

Lumina Foundation is supporting efforts in nine states as part of a new national grant program to help develop next-generation approaches to higher-education quality assurance and improvement.

This is great news for all of us who have watched the stakes continue to rise for those seeking the opportunity that comes with access to high-quality learning beyond high school. These states are trailblazers working creatively to exercise responsibility for advancing quality and equity. They were chosen from a large pool of 23 state entities responding to Lumina’s Request for Proposals last year.

Using a variety of approaches, each of the nine projects has prioritized serving today’s students better by addressing inequities in their systems. All are seeking to design or implement new systems that will use better data to approve new college programs and review the quality of existing programs. Among several approaches these states are taking to improve program quality and produce more equitable outcomes:

  • Four seek to expand transparency and accountability within their states or systems for quality post-high school programs and providers. These efforts include enhanced state data dashboards that unite education, workforce, and earnings data, disaggregated by race/ethnicity, to paint a more complete picture of student and graduate outcomes.
  • One state agency specifically seeks to enhance its consumer protection efforts in partnership with other state agencies such as Veterans Affairs.
  • Some are working with faculty and employers to develop new programs and improve existing ones to provide students with the most important knowledge and skills for success.

We expect each state to make progress on its own agenda and serve as an example for other states and higher-ed systems. This is critical for students and for an educational system increasingly under scrutiny by families, funders, and employers. Many are questioning the cost and effectiveness of higher education at exactly the moment when states need more, not fewer, individuals to attain high-quality credentials.

Disturbingly, about six in 10 Americans in a recent Pew survey say the country’s higher education system is going in the wrong direction. Of those who believe that, more than two-thirds say one reason is that college graduates are not getting the skills they need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing workplace.

The Lumina grantees in this project are:

  • Connecticut State Colleges & Universities
  • Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
  • Illinois Board of Higher Education
  • Minnesota Office of Higher Education and Minnesota State Colleges and University System
  • Montana University System
  • New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education
  • Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
  • South Dakota Board of Technical Education
  • The University System of Georgia

In total, Lumina is investing more than $2 million in this effort with grants to the individual states ranging from $100,000 to $350,000.

These projects are part of a broader Lumina effort to update our nation’s systems for defining, assuring, and improving the quality of learning beyond high school. As part of this broader initiative, Lumina formed a Quality Credentials Task Force that recently issued a report presenting a new “model to advance quality and equity in education beyond high school.” The report was designed to begin a national dialogue about reforms needed to help “meet the demands of today’s economy and labor force while also meeting the needs of today’s students for meaningful employment, satisfying lives, and civic engagement.”

The task force urged greater collaboration and coordination among the entities responsible for assuring quality in our credentialing landscape. It identified state leadership as particularly important in that effort.

The new grant program also builds on earlier work by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) which released a report last year developed with support from Lumina called “Quality Assurance and Improvement in Higher Education: The Role of the States.” The authors urged state leaders to: develop real partnerships among members of the traditional quality assurance triad (the federal government, state governments, and accrediting organizations); invest in data, tools, and people with dedicated responsibility for quality assurance; and make program review and state authorization meaningful quality assurance processes. Lumina is continuing its partnership with SHEEO, focusing on improving how states exercise their responsibility for authorizing institutions of higher education to operate.

Like any good crop, the projects funded by Lumina’s new grants will take time to mature. But we look forward to what they develop and how we can learn from these efforts to advance quality and equity for today’s students, and we anticipate sharing the best new approaches as early as next year.


Debra Humphreys is Lumina’s vice president for stakeholder engagement.
Terri Taylor is the foundation’s strategy director for postsecondary finance.