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Goal 2025: 60% of Americans with Degrees

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 28/03/2016 Tom Vander Ark
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Lumina Foundation leads and supports efforts to boost America's higher education attainment rate from about 40% to 60% by 2025. Launched in 2000, the Indianapolis-based foundation is focused on quality degrees as well as recognized job credentials.
Improving completion rates at existing universities will help, but the twenty point gap represents an invention challenge. To achieve the goal in ten years, existing institutions must operate with much higher completion rates and new accelerated affordable pathways must be created.
Lumina thinks "institutions must redesign across the board so that they become more student-centered and attainment-focused. They must adopt data- and evidence-based policies and practices that close attainment gaps and improve overall completion rates."
Lumina's full court press on the 60% goal is made up of six programs of work: communities, policy advocacy (both federal and state), HigherEd mobilization, financial supports, business models and credentials.

Mobilizing communities
Cities are a critical unit of change when it comes to improving learning opportunities (as discussed in Smart Cities). Haley Glover leads Lumina strategy to mobilize employers and communities to increase higher education attainment in cities across the country, through efforts that translate workforce needs into educational pathways, K-12 to postsecondary alignment programs, and practices that support students as enter and progress through a credential. Watch this short video on community partnership for attainment.
Mobilize HigherEd
To mobilize HigherEd to become more student-centered and success-focused, Lumina emphasizes wider and better use of data including collecting, disaggregating, analyzing and using data on student persistence and attainment to increase their effectiveness. The foundation sponsors multi-campus information sharing collaboratives. (See a guidebook for supporting low-income students.)
Improving federal and state policy
To reach Goal 2025, Lumina encourages states to "build student-centered, outcomes-based postsecondary education systems with the capacity to reach much higher levels of attainment." They have full time people working five states, part time advocates in 14 states.
To combine top-down and bottom-up work, Lumina is an active advocate on federal policy (see recent paper on transforming federal regulation of HigherEd).
Developing new models of student financial supports
The Lumina team argues that the financial aid model is broken and outdated, leaving HigherEd unaffordable for too many potential students. More than 40 million Americans have student loan debt totaling $1.2 trillion. Student debt doubled over the last seven years and about 40% of these loans aren't repaid.
Lumina advocates for affordable HigherEd--that the learner should be able to repay the cost of college with savings of 10% over 10 years. (More simply, ASU president Michael Crow said that graduates shouldn't leave with more debt than they'd incur buying a Honda Civic.)
In addition to affordability, the foundation advocates for HigherEd costs that are predictable, as well as transparent costs with incentives to complete.
Supporting new models of HigherEd
Kevin Corcoran, who leads business model exploration, said Lumina has made a significant bet on competency-based education (CBE). It's based on a map of what students should know, understand, and be able to do and includes valid, reliable and authentic assessments of those skills. Lumina sponsors a network of 30 colleges and universities and four public systems working to accelerate progress on model design and implementation as well as evaluation of CBE pilot sites, including several that have met readiness of the U.S. Department of Education's Competency-Based Experiment.
New models will require funding and policies that create incentives for completion and remove barriers to change (see paper on Outcomes-Based Funding).
Building a new system of credentials
The nation has no organized system of credentials; there is a poorly aligned complex patchwork that no longer meets the needs of students or businesses.
Holly Zanville said the foundation is working in four areas to create a rational credential framework:

  1. Hosting a national dialog on credentialing;
  2. Sponsoring tools, credentials and transcripts that mean something;
  3. Promoting recognition and adoption of credentials through a credential registry; and
  4. Pathways, guided, reverse transfer, military, service learning, adult

Recent work has focused on a Degree Qualifications Profile, "A learning-centered framework for what college graduates should know and be able to do to earn the associate, bachelor's or master's degree." A recent edition of Lumina's newsletter focused on tomorrow's transcript.
A panel of credentialing experts said we'll know about the wide array of current efforts in two years and may see substantial landscape change in five years.

Investing for Impact

John Duong directs Lumina's impact investing agenda. The Foundation seeks to mobilize $1 billion for Goal 2025 in part by catalyze 10-20 times the capital they invest in promising startups. They hope to help drive 205 innovations each year.
Since joining 7 months ago, Duong has made to equity investments in EdTech startups promoting college completion. The first two Lumina investments (Program Related Investment structured as equity) are digital credential service provider Credly and student support system BridgeEdU.
Jonathan Finkelstein, CEO of Credly, said credentials are simply verified claims. In the way that a driver's license signals "trained driver" to a car rental company, credentials should reliably signal employers. Finkelstein said there are over 8,000 organizations issuing alternative credentials. Rather than being a problem, he thinks digitally presented credentials can add transparency, data and evidence of best work, security and trackability.
Last week Credly announced the closing of a $2.5 million seed financing round led by University Ventures and New Markets Venture Partners with participation from Lumina's Strategic Social Investment work.

Finkelstein claims Credly will help promote "better outcomes for individuals and the institutions that serve them by capturing and conveying skills accurately and at the right grain size."
Wes Moore, CEO of BridgeEdU said, "Potential is universal, opportunity is not." The startup is trying to change that by transforming the first year of college for low income students with advice on financial aid orientation, year round coursework and tech-enabled success coaching. The mobile-first platform is free to students; the program paid for by the universities because it dramatically increases the likelihood of continuation and completion.
For more on Lumina see:

For more on impact investing and credentialing see:
Disclosure: Tom Vander Ark is CEO of Getting Smart and a partner at Learn Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in educational technology.

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