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Reflections on Year 1 of Lumina’s Community Attainment Work

In December 2013, Lumina Foundation announced the first cohort of communities and regions partnering with us through the Community Partnership for Attainment. Since then, the Community Partnership for Attainment network has grown to 75 cities spanning the country.

The Community Partnership for Attainment is devoted to improving postsecondary attainment, and is organized around three pillars. The first is partnership health. Whether communities utilize Collective Impact or home-grown collaboration strategies, the objectives remain the same—communities must work collaboratively to set and achieve common postsecondary attainment goals, utilize agreed-upon accountability tools and measures, and utilize data to make decisions about program direction and design. The second pillar is equity. Communities need to explicitly identify and develop action plans to address chronic attainment gaps between populations, particularly between racial and ethnic groups. Without addressing the needs of all population groups, America will never reach Goal 2025. The final pillar is attainment. By this we mean that communities must move toward addressing both access and success for students, with the ultimate objective being college completion. Access alone is insufficient—this work requires communities to move toward improving credential completion to maximize impact. And without improving access to postsecondary institutions, especially for students who have been underserved in the past, our work will not create the kind of social change we all want to see.

In January 2015, we convened leaders of each of the 75 participating cities as well as national thought leaders who support the partnership and assist the cities as they strive to reach their respective postsecondary attainment goals. The people doing this work have no end of passion, energy or talent. They care about students of all ages and backgrounds and they are committed to giving everyone in their communities the opportunity to achieve a quality post-high school credential. What an amazing group of leaders!

The more than 300 community leaders who convened in Dallas represented higher education, K-12, business, human services, religious organizations, and other community-based organizations, and we spent our time networking, sharing resources, and digging deeper into solutions. Convenings like this are a critical part of our community-based work – the Partnership offers cities a modest amount of financial support, but more importantly, it provides opportunities to collaborate, receive technical assistance and to work with national leaders to build and implement a plan that suits the needs of each individual community. This convening marked the first time all 75 communities in the network have come together. The Lumina Convenings Team worked hard to plan down to the very last detail, but these community leaders brought energy and excitement that we never could’ve anticipated.

Much of the convening involved leaders sharing their approaches and stories. One of the most motivating stories that we heard came from Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, TX.  Through its focus on building higher standards and expectations, and respecting students, Paul Quinn College’s journey has resulted in the transformation of an institution, and the revitalization of students’ dreams. Another came from Cheryl Hyman, Chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago, who shared that institution’s dramatic turnaround story with our group, including how it became more student-centric, efficient and effective, and responsive to the workforce. Both of these leaders spoke from the heart, and challenged our group to think critically about what is at stake should we not work to build an equitable education system: people’s lives.

We were also joined by leaders of several of Dallas’ key organizations: Commit! Executive Director, Todd Williams, Laurie Larrea from Workforce Solutions, Chancellor Joe May from the Dallas County Community College District, President Vistasp Karbhari from UT-Arlington, and Angela Farley from the Dallas Regional Chamber. These committed, invested leaders demonstrated that the work happening in Dallas is hard, but necessary, real and producing results.

The convening featured a broad and deep array of sessions, hosted by national organizational partners and the communities themselves. I hope that the structure of the convening, with the content driven almost exclusively by those doing the work, reflects our deep respect for their knowledge and expertise.  We’ll continue to turn to our community partners to lead, and we’ll support them every step of the way.

To learn more about Lumina’s community-based work see the strategy partner resource page.  Please check back in on this page to find out more about our continued learning in this area of Lumina’s work to help the nation reach Goal 2025.

Tracy Chen

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