Adult learners of color are focused, ambitious, and resourceful, and represent a sizable share of students at community colleges. But policies, practices, and beliefs rooted in history unfairly hold many of these learners back from a better education and its benefits. These same policies have created inequitable systems of education resulting in fewer resources and less capacity at community colleges to fully serve adults of color. Against these odds, community colleges continue to be catalysts of opportunity, but more must be done to ensure that these learners are well-served and supported on these campuses.

Over the last two years, Lumina has supported the REACH Collaborative, which stands for Racial Equity for Adult Credentials in Higher Education and works with community colleges to help adult students of color attain associate degrees and other credentials. The collaborative does this by working to identify and remove racial barriers. It works alongside community colleges as they build pathways that embrace the unique experiences and needs of these learners.

The REACH framework, which continues to evolve as this work progresses, features three guiding principles.

  • Credential-to-Degree Pathways. These remove unfair barriers to high-wage, family-supporting careers. Their speed and stackability are a necessary and practical response to the costly stops and restarts that adult learners of color often face.
  • Bundled and Sequenced Supports. These provide vital academic and non-academic resources—from tutoring to transportation—all along a student’s educational journey. Giving adult learners of color what they need, when they need it, inside and outside the classroom, makes education work better for everyone.
  • Culturally Sustaining Practices. These encourage adult learners of color with the messages they need to persist: Their experiences matter, they have what it takes, and they can trust their colleges to help them obtain a quality education and the benefits it affords.

Since its formation, the REACH Collaborative has supported more than 140 schools in six states—California, Colorado, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—as they develop and implement pathways uniquely designed to assist adult learners of color. Students in those pathways are earning credentials and working toward degrees that will lead to high-quality jobs in high-growth sectors.

Over the summer, Lumina Foundation awarded states and partners involved in the REACH Collaborative new 18-month grants totaling $5.7 million. This funding will help the collaborative build on progress made by the six REACH states. It also will support a more targeted approach to racial equity with REACH Deeper, a cohort of 10 community colleges that will receive added coaching and support to accelerate their advanced progress.

When colleges use pathways, supports, and practices specifically designed to serve adult learners of color, everyone benefits. Institutions expand their capacity to increase enrollment and degree attainment. Empowered graduates contribute to diverse and stronger workforces. Everyone gets what they need to learn, grow, and thrive.

There are three ways to learn more about REACH and gain access to its findings and resources:

  1. Follow REACH on Linkedin and share updates to expand the collaborative’s visibility.
  2. Visit the collaborative’s website to find tools you can use to further this work in your state and institution.
  3. Subscribe to the newsletter to read success stories from participating colleges and states that inspire and model racial equity in higher education.

The REACH Collaborative is co-facilitated by our partners:


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