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Lumina Foundation for Education Announces Adult Degree Completion Commitment

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On September 29, 2010, the Lumina Foundation for Education announced the Adult Degree Completion Commitment.

Described by Lumina as “a significant new commitment to advancing adult degree attainment through a series of interconnected projects that aim to engage, motivate and help students who previously have gone to college actually earn their degrees,” support for 19 large-scale projects aimed at helping millions of students who previously have gone to college but dropped out finish and earn their degrees will be offered.

Lumina Foundation Providing $14.8 Million in Grants

The grants total $14.8 million over four years and are a benefit for community colleges and supporting organizations that have been pushing the “completion agenda,” mirroring President Barack Obama’s goal that the United States should have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

The similar goal set by Lumina in 2008 is to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025.

Lumina is a private, Indianapolis-based independent foundation and the nation’s largest foundation dedicated exclusively to increasing students’ access to and success in postsecondary education. Since its inception in August 2000, Lumina has made grants totaling over $250 million.

37 Million American Adults with Some College but No Degree

Lumina’s own research shows that 37 million adults ages 25–64—more than 20% of the working age population—have attended college but never earned a degree or credential. Lumina’s efforts to provide a second chance for these adults could be a big boost to the nation’s goal to dramatically increase college degree attainment and advance the nation’s workforce productivity.

The Washington Post’s Daniel de Vise feels it’s not surprising that the research community is beginning to pay more attention to the “some college” crowd as President Obama is pushing for the nation to regain the world lead in college completion. Adults with some college make up a group that had previously been ignored by many.

“It’s really sort of morally objectionable to write off everyone over 30,” said Jamie Merisotis, CEO of Lumina, in a recent interview at The Washington Post. Some students have also attended community college and have enough credits to graduate, but no credential. For them, college completion is a matter of mere paperwork. “For some of them, life just gets in the way,” Merisotis offered as an explanation.

Project Win-Win

The Institute for Higher Education Policy’s three-year, $1.3 million Project Win-Win is one of the largest projects being funded by Lumina’s Adult Degree Completion Commitment. The goal of Project Win-Win is to track down formerly enrolled community college students in six states—Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin— so they can retroactively award qualified students with associates degrees.

Why? “A lot of the students who dropped out of school didn’t realize just how close they were to finishing,” said Stephanie Tarver, dean of enrollment management at McNeese State University, which awards associate degrees and was part of a pilot program held during a seven-month period in 2009.

“Project Win-Win has the potential to make a considerable down payment on increased degree completion goals set by state governors and the Obama Administration,” said Michelle Asha Cooper, Institute for Higher Education Policy president.

Second Chance at Success?

“There is growing evidence that adults who have gone to college but not received a degree are looking for a second chance but need the right kind of information and motivation to help them succeed,” says Merisotis.

The Lumina Foundation expects the grants to reach some 6.6 million adults who have some prior college credits over the four years.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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