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Policy Meets Pathways: A State Policy Agenda for Transformational Change

Lara K. Couturier

A new national report released by Jobs for the Future says that a decade of interventions and improvements have fallen short because states and campuses have not taken large enough steps to address their biggest challenge—helping the 12.8 million students enrolled in community colleges earn postsecondary degrees and credentials to find good jobs. Policy Meets Pathways: A State Policy Agenda for Transformational Change argues that campuses and states must do more than establish metrics for success, change transfer policies, provide better academic advising and support pilots targeting specific student subgroups. Community colleges need to redesign pilot projects and ad hoc interventions into structured or guided pathways that reshape every step of the student experience. States need to redouble their efforts to modernize policies, and develop more effective approaches that support campuses and build capacity to strengthen implementation.

The report challenges national leaders, state officials, and system heads 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—from admissions and instruction to student services and workforce preparation—to increase the percentage of low-income students who earn degrees and find jobs that pay a living wage,” says Lara K. Couturier, program director of postsecondary state policy for Jobs for the Future and author of the report. The report is based on JFF’s work with community colleges and states around the nation. It 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.

Policy Meets Pathways also introduces JFF’s new DesignForScale initiative—a set of resources and services designed to help state actors create the policy conditions within which community colleges can take on the types of transformational change necessary to implement structured pathways. The report is part of the DesignForScale Series, which encourages the field to develop a more strategic and cohesive approach to scaling student success reforms at and across community colleges. The series affirms that it is time to be more systematic, serious, and organized about designing visionary, integrated reforms to be implemented at scale, while maintaining appreciation for questions, new evidence, and college context.

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