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Scaling Affordable Pathways

A system for learning beyond high school that assures equitable access to affordable pathways to quality credentials.

In recent years, our understanding of how to increase student success in postsecondary education has expanded significantly—so much so that there is now little doubt about what it will take to narrow or even close gaps in attainment and increase the number of Americans who earn high-quality postsecondary credentials. Colleges and universities, other postsecondary learning providers, states, the federal government, communities, and employers all have roles to play in assuring that this student success agenda is implemented at a wide scale across the postsecondary landscape.

It is time for the proven approach being taken by these institutions and communities to become the norm in American higher education

Most important is that communities, colleges and universities, other postsecondary providers, and policymakers work together to implement integrated action plans to increase postsecondary attainment. Indeed, a growing number of communities—with colleges and universities deeply engaged—are showing the way. It is time for the proven approach being taken by these institutions and communities to become the norm in American higher education. This evidence-based approach requires sustained, large-scale effort, but it dramatically improves results for students. The student success agenda focuses on three things:

  1. that all students are on a guided academic pathway leading to a high-quality credential,
  2. that robust institutional data tracks the progress of all students along their pathway in real time and identifies any problems they face in meeting their learning goals, and
  3. that targeted academic, social, and financial supports get students back on track and keep them on a pathway to completion.

Creating an expectation that all Americans complete some form of education beyond high school demands that it be affordable to all. But affordability has been loosely defined at best, and public attention is overwhelmingly focused on tuition rates rather than the broader factors that determine whether postsecondary opportunities are truly affordable. Lumina has taken a different approach, focusing instead on what students and families can afford to pay. Because it establishes a clear standard for when postsecondary education is affordable for students and families and when it is not, the Lumina Affordability Benchmark is an important new tool for policymakers and institutions to use to increase the attainment of quality postsecondary credentials.

Colleges and universities that close gaps in attainment and increase student success do not implement one or two programs or best practices to achieve these results. Rather, they take a holistic approach to create a culture focused on completion, equity, and quality. This includes a relentless focus on making education more accessible by reducing institutional costs through improvements in productivity. Public policy must play a key role in ensuring student success by providing affordable educational pathways to all potential students, targeting financial support to encourage both institutions and students to focus on success and reduce or eliminate barriers that prevent timely progression to credentials.