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Grant Program Challenges Institutions to Help Students Succeed After Graduation

By Maria Carrasco, NASFAA Staff Reporter

As institutions work to help students complete their degree or credential, one organization is challenging institutions to look at other measures of students’ success beyond completion. 

Earlier this year, Strada Education Network announced the recipients of four $1.5 million grants, as part of its $10 million Beyond Completion Challenge. The challenge provides institutions funding to launch, test, and scale initiatives designed to ensure that students — specifically students of color and first-generation students — are positioned to succeed after graduation. 

The four recipients include Arizona State University, the University of Texas system, Rio Salado Community College, and the University of Utah, who were selected for the second phase of the challenge. The first phase awarded 15 institutions a total of up to $250,000 each to identify and expand new solutions that will improve career and life opportunities for more students, according to Strada. 

Courtney McBeth, senior vice president and chief program officer at Strada Education Network, said the challenge was created after noticing how federal and state governments along with the higher education landscape shifted their focus about student success after graduation. 

“We started the challenge because of the need to continue to get higher ed leaders and institutions thinking about the importance of outcomes beyond completion and the equity gaps that emerge once you start looking at those outcomes,” McBeth said. “And then thinking about what programs, policies, and initiatives would help drive better outcomes for students.” 

McBeth said the grant program was designed with two phases in mind, with the first set as an “innovation phase” where institutions could use those funds to launch new programs on their campus or expand existing programs. 

“I think that's an important thing to note, this isn't just all new, but it's building or enhancing other initiatives that campus leaders have going on,” McBeth said. 

Arizona State University, for example, will expand its Work+ program and pilot it at eight other institutions, including the University of Central Florida, Georgia State University, the University of Maine, the University of Illinois Chicago, and more. 

The Work+ program is designed to reshape the experience of student workers employed by Arizona State. Specifically, the program aims to give student employees a strategic set of tools and help them increase their career readiness through mentorship and peer feedback from student employee supervisors, and educational programming, such as online modules, webinars, and events. Additionally, the Work+ program aims to build students skills around eight career competencies from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, such as leadership, professionalism, and teamwork.

McBeth said Arizona State was chosen for one of the grants because their Work+ program takes campus employment “to the next level.”

“It's about enhancing and embedding career readiness into student employment on campus,” McBeth said. “It's intentionality around plugging more students into substantive and meaningful on campus jobs, and also providing enhanced mentorship and career readiness, help with interviewing skills and their resume, and mentoring and connecting that experiential learning to their academic experience.”

The program’s pilot launched in fall 2020, said Brandee Popaden-Smith, director of the Work + Learn program at Arizona State. She said through feedback from the program, student employee supervisors are sharing an increase in confidence in themselves as a supervisor, and that all students are starting to see their on-campus job as an opportunity to sharpen their skills for their careers. 

“We have a lot of feedback coming in through our surveys, that students are actually starting to see their student employment job as a valuable piece of their academic journey that's helping them prepare for post-completion plans,” Popaden-Smith said. “Student employment in the past has often been very transactional. …’ And many times students do not see it as connected at all — to their field of study, to what their plans are after graduation. And that's where we're really starting to see the tide turn with those students that are involved.”

The grant is meant to expand the Work+ program to all 12,000 student employment positions at Arizona State within the next three years. It will also support the launch of Work+ pilot programs at eight other two- and four-year institutions across the country, with the potential of reaching a total of 19,000 students. 

The goal, Popaden-Smith said, is not to replicate Work+ at other institutions as it exists at ASU, but rather to “co-design” the program with each institution to fit their needs.

Another recipient of the grant program is the University of Texas system, which will expand the Texas Credentials for the Future initiative across its eight institutions, reaching about 30,000 students.

The initiative focuses on students in low-wage majors and offers microcredentials that can help students find success after graduation. Those microcredentials include Google Career Certificates in different subjects, certifications in the areas of health and fitness for exercise science majors, Amazon Web Services Cloud Practitioner certification, and more. 

“Really, the goal is to advance equitable outcomes for students in these majors that historically have led to lower post-graduation earnings,” McBeth said.

Meanwhile, Rio Salado Community College received a grant to expand its Custom Academic Readiness and Essential Employment Reskilling (CAREER) program, which helps adult learners seeking basic literacy, GED test preparation, workforce preparation and career training. With those resources, students will be able to better complete college coursework find fulfilling careers that provide family-sustaining wages.

Tamara Cochran, dean of Instruction and Community Development at Rio Salado,  said the main goal of the CAREER program was to provide an “entry point” for adult learners — those 16 and older who are not enrolled in high school or are English language learners — to access education and credentials. 

“It's also to prepare them to succeed in college courses, while they're completing career credentials, and increasing their skills so that they are able to access employment that's meaningful to them,” she said

The University of Utah will use its grant to scale its West Valley College2Career program, which provides college and career navigation services, career pathways, and financial aid support for programs that prepare students for in-demand health care careers. 

Specifically, Wendy Hobson-Rohrer, associate vice president of Health Sciences Education at University of Utah Health, said the program was created because the university is working on building a hospital and a health center in the West Valley area of Salt Lake City. 

“We wanted to work on increasing the number of health care professionals that are from the community that then they will end up serving,” Hobson said. “The long-term vision is to create pathways and health care professions for all different types of students, and have … the education be in the part of town where they are from.”

The program will serve at least 3,600 students from low-income communities and communities of color in the health care field. Hobson notes that the program will use University Neighborhood Partners’ place-based approach, meaning that they’ll focus their outreach of traditional high school students and adult learners from Salt Lake County's West Valley area. And specifically within the program, students in the program will have coaches and other support staff to help them with the FAFSA and other career navigation services. 

“The funding from Strada is going to allow community members to really succeed in pathways that maybe they hadn't seen possible,” Hobson said. “And I think that the acceleration by the funding is going to make a tremendous impact in a community in terms of health care.”

 

Publication Date: 3/28/2023


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