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The Future We Seek

February 13, 2020


At the start of this new decade, JFF’s Postsecondary State Network convened in Seattle to reflect on the past 15 years and plan for the future.

We had powerful discussions, and together we identified big questions we need to answer, all focused on making this vision a reality:

At JFF, we envision a future in which people of all ages can access and benefit from learning opportunities that meet them where they are, prepare them for the future, and lead to economic mobility, supported by an integrated ecosystem of learning, workforce, and community organizations.

Here’s a rundown of the questions we discussed, the challenges we identified, and the goals we set for the future.

How can we build internal capacity for change?

If community colleges are to remain engines of economic opportunity, we must adapt as the world around us changes. To be the disruptor—and not the disrupted—we need to be relevant and responsive to the changing needs of our students, employer partners, and communities. The building blocks exist; now we need to expand our models of professional development and coaching to build capacity for change at all levels within our organizations.

Are you relevant? And are you responsive?

Bill Pink, president , Grand Rapids Community College

How do we broaden our network so that it includes more voices and perspectives?

We have to connect and work cooperatively with one another and a broader set of partners to accelerate the pace of change. That means building honest, intentional partnerships with the broad array of organizations that influence our students’ lives.

How do we build systems and structures that work for learners across their lifetimes and throughout their careers?

What would it mean to potentially have three (or more) generations of learners pursuing postsecondary education? How do we scale the work already underway to engage adult learners and accelerate degree completion for those who have acquired skills and knowledge on the job or through years of life experience?

The only way we can combat the uncertain future of work is through learning.

Amy Girardi, senior program manager, JFF

What is the value proposition of community colleges in the broader ecosystem of learning?

You are student-centered, equity-minded, and grounded in your local communities. Many of you produce amazing outcomes for first-generation college students who are from low-income backgrounds and are members of underrepresented minority communities. As a network, we can work together to champion the value of community colleges.

What is the role of state policy in accelerating institutional transformation and driving upward economic mobility among more learners?

In Seattle, JFF shared the results of its state policy scan, Making College Work for Students and the Economy, which calls for greater attention to talent development, efficient pathways, and wraparound student supports. We also heard how California, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Washington are using policy as a lever to sharpen the focus on equity and labor market alignment.

As part of JFF’s Postsecondary Network, you are part of a growing group of people who care passionately about undoing the embedded inequities in our country’s postsecondary system. You have a professional commitment to ensuring that postsecondary education lives up to its promise as an engine for economic mobility for all. The Postsecondary Network is a platform for exchanging ideas, learning from each other, and co-creating new solutions to questions like these, and we need your ideas and energy. Keeping in mind that our CEO, Maria Flynn, encourages a bias towards action, let us know what bold ideas you think will accelerate progress. What ideas can we test together?

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