Nashville War Memorial Auditorium (iStock / SeanPavonePhoto)
Nashville, one of two dozen communities that have earned national recognition for their efforts to increase post-high school education and training, is seeing success with neighborhood “ambassadors” who guide people through the sometimes-bewildering educational system.
“In a lot of pockets of Nashville, if someone says, ‘I would like to go to college, but I don’t know how,’ there’s not someone to say, ‘Hey, I know a person who can help you,’” says Laura Ward, director of adult talent initiatives with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
Ward is a member of the team coordinating the work that has made Nashville a Talent Hub—one of 24 communities across the country that have been recognized for their extraordinary efforts to help people of all backgrounds receive an education beyond high school. The Talent Hub designation is awarded by Lumina Foundation, with support from The Kresge Foundation.
My organization, Jobs for the Future, works with Lumina to help communities develop local partnerships, pathways to learning, and to address unfair outcomes among African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. Late last year in Tennessee, we brought together six of these communities—Albuquerque; Cincinnati; Columbus, Indiana; Elkhart County, Indiana; Nashville, and Tulsa—to learn from each other and to share best practices.
We’re making special efforts to help adults who need a marketable credential for today’s economy. Many adult learners have specific goals and a real drive to succeed, but need extra wraparound supports to realize their dream of going to college or getting a better job. Lumina’s efforts with these people are part of the foundation’s national goal of increasing the percentage of adults with college degrees, certificates, and other quality credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Currently only 47 percent of working-age adults have such a credential.
Each city’s Talent Hub guiding team is unique, but most include representatives from higher education, community organizations, nonprofits, business, and government. Nashville’s strategy includes education ambassadors who live and work in the neighborhoods they are targeting. They help recruit adults who may not know about available services—free college tuition in Tennessee, for instance—but can be convinced by someone they trust to enroll in education or training.
The ambassador program has been used elsewhere in Tennessee and is now being deployed in Nashville’s Promise Zones, high-poverty areas where the federal government partners with local leaders to address priorities identified by the community.
The Talent Hub work coincided with the launch of the Tennessee Reconnect Grants for community colleges, which help adults complete a postsecondary degree tuition-free at one of the state’s community or technical colleges. These grants are reaching people who never thought they could afford to go to college or get training.
Nashville also has two navigators who are helping prepare students for college, and education ambassadors work in their neighborhoods to connect would-be students to the program. That local connection is vital, since we know that key decisions like attending college are often made at home, at church, or by talking to neighbors or friends.
Nashville plans to expand Reconnect Ambassador Training, originally created by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, to help those on the sidelines of prosperity—people coming out of incarceration in particular, get access to funding for education and guidance on career pathways. Working with people who may have been overlooked in the past—officials hope to change the narrative around talent development.
Innovative strategies like Nashville’s are making a real difference, and all six of the Talent Hubs at our fall meeting said they are rethinking traditional recruitment, so they can serve their target populations better. Guiding team members are gifted problem solvers, and with the support of Lumina and JFF, they are changing lives in Tennessee.
Jessica Toglia is a program manager at Jobs For the Future. Lumina Foundation works with Jobs for the Future to support community partnerships across the United States.
Who We Are
Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. We envision a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. Our goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.