FRANKFORT, Ky. – The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) has received a $2.1 million grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation to create a new statewide initiative that will help improve equity and close outcome gaps on college campuses.
The effort, called the Kentucky Student Success Collaborative, represents a unique front in higher education. It will serve as the first statewide center in the country that works with both two- and four-year institutions, linking campuses with business leaders and state policy makers. It also positions Kentucky as a national leader in developing strategies for student achievement.
“This initiative will help drive institutional change at every level,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “All Kentuckians deserve equitable access to a high-quality college education, and our campuses have developed tremendous momentum toward that goal. Now is the time to scale up with a concentrated, statewide effort that expands on their work. I want to thank the James Graham Brown Foundation for this gift and CPE for their steadfast leadership in this area.”
Housed at CPE, the collaborative will focus on three main objectives – information sharing, professional development and assistance with research and analysis.
The goal is to help campuses develop innovative approaches that will improve graduation rates, close equity gaps, enhance workforce development and increase learning opportunities for emerging leaders in higher education.
The initiative will also connect campuses with local communities, businesses, policy experts and other external resources that can help improve student outcomes.
Mason B. Rummel, president and chief executive of the Louisville-based foundation, said CPE was awarded the grant thanks to its expertise in student success policies and its track record in driving a statewide, student-focused agenda. She believes partnering with CPE will also dramatically reduce the time required to launch the initiative.
“Student success is a priority for our foundation because we believe that equitable educational attainment will increase economic and social mobility for Kentuckians,” said Rummel. “Kentucky’s colleges and universities are eager to address equity and student success, but there are questions about ‘the how’ of transformation that don’t have easy answers. We are supporting the KYSSC because we believe it will help Kentucky find those answers and to go faster by going together.”
The announcement marks the largest privately funded grant that CPE has ever received. It will support the collaborative for three years, funding three employees. CPE is providing a $747,000 in-kind match comprised of administrative support and existing resources.
Among its many activities, the collaborative will seek to identify new funding resources from national organizations that have not yet engaged with efforts in the commonwealth.
Officials say the first-of-its-kind effort is crucial to increase degree completion across the state and help Kentuckians transition into new careers.
In 2015, Kentucky established the 60×30 goal, an ambitious effort to raise the percentage of working-age Kentuckians with a high-quality postsecondary degree or certificate to 60% by the year 2030.
Despite clear gains since then, college graduation rates remain significantly lower for certain groups of students, including first generation, low-income and underrepresented minority students. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these disparities.
CPE President Aaron Thompson said establishing the statewide network will ensure diverse voices are helping identify challenges and foster change. Leaving institutions to work in isolation too often produces limited and redundant results, he said.
“Our approach will provide a powerful tool for lasting reforms,” Thompson said. “The collaborative creates a balanced, equitable footing to transform higher education and create new opportunities that uplift all of our students. We look forward to our continued collaboration with our campuses on these goals, and I want to thank the incredible team at the James Graham Brown Foundation for their commitment to our efforts.”