Postsecondary Success Notes | February 2024

A visit to Texas: Building bridges for learners
Postsecondary Success February 2024 Building bridges for learners in Texas

Colleagues –

If you subscribe to this newsletter, there’s a strong chance you already know about the foundation’s commitment to dramatically improve student outcomes and ensure that race, ethnicity, and income are not predictors of postsecondary success. And it’s likely a safe bet that you too are aligned with our mission and work tirelessly in your day-to-day to move the needle for students.

But it’s one thing to know what we care about and why we do the work we do, and it’s another thing to see it in action. And I had just that opportunity when I joined our CEO Mark Suzman on a learning trip to Texas earlier this month. While the primary focus of the trip was on the foundation’s Pathways work, the very nature of those efforts invited Mark to get a taste of what’s happening on the ground with K-12, postsecondary, data, and advocacy. We visited two high schools (which you can read more about in our Pathways newsletter) and our Frontier Set partners in Houston at San Jacinto College. This trip served as Mark’s first visit to a high school and college as foundation CEO, and it was a pleasure to share this experience with him and highlight the incredible work happening on the ground to create seamless pathways for students.

San Jac is a public community college that was established in 1961. They have over 40,000 students (the majority are students of color) enrolled across five campuses and online. Because of San Jac’s thoughtful contributions to the Frontier Set, their role as one of the original 30 members of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Guided Pathways Project, and their accolade as one of the top community colleges in the country, with a history of working collaboratively to create equitable student success for students of color, I knew their culture would be focused on advising and promoting strong career outcomes for students, but it really came to life when Mark and I visited campus and had an opportunity to connect with students, and one in particular really struck a chord and perfectly exemplified what’s working in Texas.

Margarita, a nursing student at San Jac graduated C.E. King High School with 30 college credits, thanks to the King Nurses in Training (KNIT) dual enrollment program. She started by taking Mark’s blood pressure, which I’m happy to share was respectable. And later in the San Jac simulation lab showed us the high-fidelity (and incredibly lifelike) mannequin where she learned to measure other diagnostics. While Margarita shared “nothing in the world can prepare you for nursing school”, the KNIT program and strong relationships with fellow students and teachers gave her a “helping hand.” She knows this group of people will be lifelong friends and perhaps most importantly a network of peers who know what she’s going through – the successes and the struggles – which she noted her family doesn’t always understand. About her school community she shared: “When you’re lower than the trenches, these are the people you call.”

San Jac’s structured partnership with C.E. King is just one example of how they are helping students to and through a degree program by creating pathways to help them save time and money and creating an inclusive campus culture that ensures students are seen and supported. If you want to talk about postsecondary value, Margarita is a 19-year-old with an associate degree who hasn’t needed to rely exclusively on her Pell Grant because Texas is building bridges for learners – now that’s value And Margarita’s story isn’t a one-off, as San Jac’s enrollment and completion rates have steadily increased since 2011 by 71.9% (including during the pandemic). In 2023 alone, they were awarded a record 8,411 credentials and helped more than 3,000 students transfer to four-year institutions.

We’re so grateful postsecondary exemplars like San Jac exist to demonstrate what’s possible and how to be nimble in an everchanging world. And more states should look at the steps taken by the Texas legislature to overhaul the community college funding formula and incentivize community colleges to connect students, including dual enrollment students, to coherent, structured pathways that lead to high-wage, high-demand jobs in the state. In other words, the legislation incentivizes value.

Texas is committed to building bridges for learners. The work they are doing is powerful and prioritizes student success above all else. I was thrilled to join Mark for this trip and spotlight our partners.


Patrick Methvin

Quick Takes

Elevating Equitable Value

Last week, our partners at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), released a new research series on equitable postsecondary value, in collaboration with field-based researchers. The series’ first three papers explore diverse aspects of equitable value – including adjunct labor and inequality at Minority-Serving Institutions, the importance of place, and economic returns across rural-serving colleges.

Graduate Students Want a ROI Too

Are graduate students seeing a return on their investment? Do they think it was worth it? Valuable? These are a few of the questions Third Way asked during a recent round of public opinion research in partnership with Global Strategy Group. They conducted an online survey with around 1,000 current and recent graduates nationwide and solicited opinions on their graduate institution and how it serves students. Key takeaways: Students expect employment and earnings boosts from attending a graduate program, they equate getting a job after to its worth, and graduate degrees aren’t necessarily a ticket to financial security.

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