3 to 5 from 75: Collaborating to Increase Postsecondary Attainment


The collaborator's serenity prayer is to have the "courage to change the things you cannot accept." Well, here's what I cannot accept:

  • College not being accessible or affordable for too many people
  • Vast numbers of adults with some college credit but no degree who lack the supports to return to college
  • Students from low-income households and students of color historically completing college at much lower rates than students from other demographics
  • Our inability to fill jobs because potential applicants do not hold the needed credentials

Aligned and mobilized work to address those things we cannot accept is occurring in Kansas City. The Lumina Foundation's grant-sponsored GradForceKC initiative is focused on strategies to increase degree attainment across the region. At the same time, KC Rising (an initiative co-sponsored by the Civic Council, Mid-America Regional Council, and Kansas City Area Development Council) is developing strategies for enhancing the regional workforce-ready talent pool. These efforts are working side by side and include representation from employers, education, higher education and the community at large. The Kauffman Foundation continues to support postsecondary completion for regional students by participating in these initiatives, among others.

Last month, nearly 400 dedicated and energetic individuals from across the country gathered in St. Louis for three days to discuss postsecondary education completion in the United States. The space was abuzz with a sense of urgency. A commitment to change lives and communities filled the air.

Participants included teams of three to five people from the 75 cities selected to be part of the Community Partnership for Attainment, a national movement sponsored by the Lumina Foundation to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials.

There were several Kansas Citians in the room – representing GradForceKC, Mid-America Regional Council, Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, Metropolitan Community College, Johnson County Community College and the Kauffman Foundation. Other Missouri attendees hailed from Springfield and St. Louis as they are also partnership cities.

The opening session emphasized the Lumina Foundation goal that 60 percent of citizens nationwide will have earned a postsecondary credential or degree by 2025. To put this into context, only 34 percent of those age 25 and over in the Kansas City region currently hold a bachelor's degree (which is similar to rates in cities across the nation).

Repeatedly reinforced during the event was that moving the needle on increasing  postsecondary attainment in any community will only be possible and sustainable if we mobilize employers, communities and higher education to work together to align postsecondary attainment with workforce and civic needs. These challenges, along with the solutions and strategies to address them, belong to everyone.


Convening for postsecondary attainment
in St. Louis, MO.

Attending the Lumina Foundation's convening of partnership cities reinforced the efforts underway in Kansas City. Simultaneously, we were reminded that our work on postsecondary attainment for all is critically important and urgent—and we have far to go. Sheri Gonzales-Warren of Mid-America Regional Council reflected, "We know that the road to success in this area is not linear, sequential or precise but we also know that if we keep doing what we have done for the past 30 years, we will continue to produce the same mediocre results regarding talent development." We bring back to Kansas City and will widely share the words of Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, when asked where we start to increase postsecondary attainment rates in our communities. Jamie said, "There is not one answer; it is a combination of actions and strategies that fit together. We need to have a sense of urgency around getting there. This is our problem to solve; not someday, but now."

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Beth Tankersley-Bankhead
Beth Tankersley-Bankhead is a director of postsecondary initiatives in Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where she works with grant- and non-grant- related initiatives in the postsecondary space including Kauffman Scholars, Inc., and the development of a new Kansas City Scholars program.