The Education Commission of the States just announced a $13 million foundation-funded initiative to scale up practices that have been shown to dramatically increase college success for all students, but especially for underserved groups.

In the months ahead, Strong Start to Finish will provide three-year grants of up to $2.25 million to support state, metropolitan, and regional college consortia to broadly implement developmental education redesign, improve advising and student supports, and ensure students complete math and English requirements in their first year, as well as begin a program of study. Research shows this type of strong start dramatically increases students’ completion of college.

Jim Applegate, visiting professor in Illinois State’s Center for the Study of Education Policy, serves on the National Expert Advisory Board for the initiative with leaders from across American higher education. As member of the board, he has been involved in designing the initiative and now will be involved in crafting the request for proposals and evaluating proposals for the first set of grants.

“Frankly,” Applegate said, “what we need to do to dramatically close success gaps and increase completions is not rocket science. This initiative builds on what we know works and focuses on making that common practice rather than the province of a few forward thinking states and colleges. Our increasingly diverse students desperately need college administrators, faculty, and staff to exhibit the leadership, will, and openness to change that doing the right thing by them will require. Hopefully this substantial foundation investment will be a catalyst for that work at scale.”

Project overview

Strong Start to Finish is a collaborative network working to dramatically increase the number of low-income students, students of color, and returning adults who successfully complete math and English requirements in their first year of college. With initial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates, and the Kresge Foundation, Strong Start to Finish will award up to $13 million in competitive grants to bring evidence-based practices to scale to support the success of more students across the country. Education Commission of the States, the fiduciary agent for Strong Start to Finish, is pleased to work with this network of postsecondary education leaders and philanthropists to support equitable education and improve postsecondary graduation rates and career readiness for students.