Postsecondary State Policy

Postsecondary State Policy

Strengthening State Policies to Advance Postsecondary Success and Careers

Advising states and community college systems on developing accelerated pathways through community college and strengthening policies to help more students graduate with a high-value credential.

Michael Lawrence Collins
Vice President, Building Educational Pathways
617.728.4446 x190

The need for improvements in college completion is compelling. Between 1970 and 2009, undergraduate enrollment in the United States more than doubled, while the completion rate has been virtually unchanged. We work to improve student success and completion.

Jobs for the Future's Postsecondary State Policy work advocates for state policies that support structured, accelerated student pathways through community college to high-value credentials and transfer, including innovating and reforming remedial or developmental education.

Community colleges across the country must develop more effective pathways and policies to graduate significantly more students with postsecondary credentials that lead to family-supporting careers. The share of jobs requiring postsecondary education has more than doubled since the 1970s, spurring significant growth in the number of Americans who attend college. Community colleges, which offer one- and two-year certificates and degrees in hundreds of fields, are the nation’s key providers of credentials with value in regional labor markets. However, college graduation rates have remained far too low. Only about one in four first-time community college students attains a degree or certificate within five years. Those figures are much worse for low-income students and students of color.

The challenges facing community colleges and their students are substantial. Most students attend part time while juggling work and family responsibilities. Many earn very low incomes and have little access to transportation, child care, and other support services that are crucial to the ability to persist in their studies. More than half enter unprepared for college-level coursework and are unlikely to complete a degree. Only about one in four students who are required to start college by building basic academic skills in developmental education earns a degree within eight years. Most do not complete the required reading or math classes and never have the chance to start earning credits toward a degree.

JFF’s Postsecondary State Policy initiatives help states and their community colleges to dramatically increase the number of students who earn high-value credentials. We advise states and their community colleges on which program and policies can help students:

  • Complete coursework
  • Stay in college while juggling work and family obligations
  • Choose a career path with high labor market value
  • Earn a credential or continue their education at a four-year institution

Teams participate with support from Achieving the Dream, Completion by Design, and/or the Student Success Center Network.

Our activities include:
  • State policy development and implementation: JFF identifies which policies and incentives states should add—or remove—to drive evidence-based reforms.
  • Network of state-level innovators: JFF enables states to share best practices for implementing these reforms.
  • Stakeholder engagement and support: JFF cultivates broad understanding and support for the adoption of these reforms by documenting and disseminating stories of successful innovations.


Examples of cutting-edge reforms implemented by states in our network include:

  • Florida launched a comprehensive college-readiness agenda that includes a new assessment test to gauge readiness and determine placement, and pilots of redesigned developmental education courses.
  • North Carolina redesigned developmental education for both math and English, and implemented a new diagnostic assessment and placement test.

  • Ohio designed a funding system that rewards colleges for student progress and success at strategic points, such as the completion of developmental education courses and subsequent enrollment in college-level courses.
  • Texas launched the New Mathways Projects, paid for by all 50 of the state’s community college districts, to improve the delivery of developmental math instruction.
  • Virginia redesigned developmental education at its 23 community colleges to move students more quickly to college-level work and implemented a new placement test that better measures students’ readiness for college courses.
  • Student Success Center Network: Stories of Success

    A Student Success Center is a statewide organization that helps community colleges implement guided pathways to increase student completion of credentials of value. JFF provides services that help Centers effectively support colleges as they undertake this challenging effort. This series profiles the efforts of Centers in New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas to improve student success.

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  • Student Success Centers

    Leading the Charge for Change at Community Colleges

    Cranking up student success at community colleges requires many integrated changes at both the state and college level. To organize around a unified agenda and achieve that degree of change, seven states now each host an independent Student Success Center that provides a vision, a venue, and practical support for research, collaboration, policy, and programs. Change magazine highlights JFF’s work to develop and support centers in Arkansas, Connecticut, California, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas.

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  • Policy Meets Pathways

    Policy Meets Pathways: A State Policy Agenda for Transformational Change

    National leaders, state officials, and system heads need to “put efforts to bolster completion on a new trajectory” by analyzing the extent to which state policies support the colleges that are trying to do right by their students, and then by designing policy environments meant to serve large percentages of low-income and nontraditional students. Institutions need to operate in a policy environment that helps them introduce comprehensive and integrated reform strategies that change every aspect of what they do. The report identifies specific strategies states and colleges can follow and model efforts on nine campuses in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio—states that have made good progress in creating incentives for colleges to take on the types of transformational change necessary to implement structured pathways.

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