Our Research Approach at Lumina Foundation

Lumina Foundation defines research as the process of systematic inquiry or review that is designed to document, collect, analyze, interpret, and use data. We fund two broad categories of research:

  1.  Primary research to answer specific questions that address gaps in knowledge and evidence-base practices and policies for how best to enroll, re-enroll and support adult students of color on their pathway to earning a high quality credential that leads to employability and further education;
  2.  synthesis of existing research on specific topics that pertains to Lumina Foundation’s three concentration areas–participation, scaling students success, employment-aligned credentials–with the goal of harnessing evidence-based insights to share with key stakeholders, including Lumina’s internal staff members and the field.

Strategic Approach to Research

The strategic approach to research remains consistent across all three concentration areas—participation, scaling students’ success, and employment-aligned credentials. We work to engage the field to build the evidence base through research efforts for what works for adult students of color specifically Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans. This strategy is based on the fundamental assumption that key stakeholders—practitioners, policymakers and other leaders—will implement evidence-based practices and policies geared towards supporting adult learners of color if given the right information in ways they can understand and use.

Therefore, Lumina’s research portfolio will get to the desired outcomes by funding new research efforts (both synthesis of existing research on specific topics and new primary research), engage in creative and innovative approaches to strategically disseminate research findings to key stakeholders, summarize key learnings across research grants and disseminate through an array of communication channels, and socialize researchers as well as internal staff with lessons learned through convenings and other formal learning activities.

Principles of Research

We use a racial equity lens to guide all our research efforts and are actively working to improve our practice and that of our research partners around culturally responsive and equitable research as we partner with them in service of our Equity First agenda. To ensure that the research we fund supports our efforts to increase the nation’s postsecondary credential attainment to 60% by 2025, we consider the following criteria:

  • Does it fill a pressing gap in the existing evidence base pertaining to the three concentration areas: participation, scaling student success, and employment-aligned credentials?
  • Does it fill a pressing gap in the existing literature pertaining to the context (institutional types) and subpopulations of students that we care about?
  • Does the research design and methodology integrate culturally responsive and equitable practices in its design and implementation?
  • Does it have a strong and strategic communication and dissemination plan?
  • Is there a clear action plan or a systems-change agenda behind the research plan?

Research Design and Methods

  • Methods: We employ a mixed methods approach to the primary research we fund. Even in research projects that are heavily quantitative in nature, we still employ qualitative approaches to make sure we can identify actionable recommendations for stakeholders. Our research synthesis work tends to be mainly qualitative. Since our priority is to highlight best practices and policies in our research, we often use case studies as a methodological approach to highlight research findings in ways that make it easier for stakeholders to scale effective practices and policies.
  • Communication and Dissemination of Research Findings: This is central to our work. We focus on sharing research findings in actionable ways with the primary goal of informing key stakeholders to support and advance our work.
  • Convenings and learning sessions: We convene researchers and other key stakeholders to share lessons learned with the field. External-facing convenings are done as part/ components of specific research grants/projects. There are also instances where select researchers are invited to host learning sessions for Lumina staff to inform their work and related strategies.
  • Technical assistance to support widescale adoption of evidence-based practices and policies: We support our researchers to provide or partner with others to deliver technical assistance to key stakeholders–institutional leaders, state, and federal policymakers– as they use research to implement evidence-based practices and policies.

Uses of Information or Data from Our Research Practice

  • Internal use: We use evidence-based information to inform foundation practices and policies (i.e., strategic planning, grantmaking strategy formulation, and report findings to board members),
  • External use: We use evidence-based information to inform policy and practice across a variety of stakeholders and mobilize support for our courses (i.e., institutional leaders, state policymakers, federal policymakers, employers, and others.)