Skip to content
Impact Stories

We Need to Repair the Leaking Education Pipeline

December 21, 2018

By David Altstadt

A growing number of high school students takedual-credit courses to get a head start on college. Meanwhile, the goal of the vastmajority of community college students is to transfer to a university and earna bachelor’s degree. But the pathway from one institution to the next is rarelyas seamless as it should be. 

Too often, students waste time and money bytaking courses that receiving institutions don’t count toward their programrequirements. Some high school and community college students never even makethe transition, foregoing their dream of an advanced degree. 

A whitepaper series released by JFF explores a range of policy solutionsfor making college pathways more seamless and supportive for students. Theseries touches on curricular mapping, shared services, statewide goals, and financialaid redesign.

Strengthening Pathways toward Postsecondary Success
More from the State Policy Paper Series
Learn More

The papers’ topics were influenced by JFF’sPolicy Leadership Trust for Student Success. Trust members—twodozen postsecondary leaders—believe that emphasizing money, metrics, andsystems integration will lead policymakers to effectively catalyze changewithin institutions and across systems and produce equitable increases incredential attainment. The Trust’s goal is guiding how state and federal policycan help institutions implement and scale evidence-based, student successreforms.

Policies Can Stimulate Cross-Sector Collaboration 

The challenge JFF posed in this series isto find the right points of leverage in policy without unduly encroaching onthe academic purview of institutional practitioners. To strike the rightbalance, one paper, EffectivePathways Depend on Collaboration, examines how states couldfoster greater collaboration between K–12, community colleges, and four-yearinstitutions. 

The paper explores ways that states canuse high-level directives to convene practitioners from these education sectorsand develop statewide or regional curriculum maps and standards for each degreeprogram. By encouraging this kind of joint-system approach, states could alsodirect these practitioners to review labor market needs and high-demand skillswhen crafting the maps and standards.

Mapping paths is a herculean effort,  but the investment will pay dividends in thelong run. Students will have a clearer understanding of courses to take toachieve their educational goals, cutting down on excess credit accumulation,time to degree, and student debt. High schools will be in a better position toadvise students on their best dual-enrollment options so that all their creditsare counted  when they continue tocollege. The same would be true for community college students who want totransfer to a four-year institution.

States should consider redesigning financial aid programs, so that the aid follows the student, not the college.

Another white paper, MeasuringWhat Matters, points out that states could establish sharedmetrics of accountability to stimulate stronger partnerships across educationsectors. Statewide targets for attainment, transfer, and economic mobility relyon the involvement of the entire education ecosystem. These metrics couldencourage K-12, community colleges, universities, and other partners to workmore closely together on pathways designs and student supports.

New Approaches to Higher Education Funding 

Two other papers in the series explorehow policymakers can spur greater alignment across systems by the way they fundinstitutions and award financial aid.

FinancingPathways for Students and Community Colleges  asserts that dedicated fund streams must be created for essentialpathway functions, like recruitment, transfer, and job placement, which areshared across multiple institutions. Typically, these functions lack both afunding source and an “owner” because no one party is wholly responsible for theirdelivery. 

States should consider how to deploy adedicated stream of resources for these shared responsibilities. This wouldenhance how various types of education and workforce institutions andorganizations deliver services, as well as encourage stronger partnerships andcoordination to ensure students are best served. 

Meanwhile, SupportingStudents Along their Pathways  points to how the disbursement offinancial aid through colleges can create obstacles for students who areinterested in moving from one institution to another to advance their educationpursuits. Decoupling aid from the admissions process and instead awarding aiddirectly to students, like California has done,  has other benefits. It would open up moreavenues and partnerships among K–12, community colleges, universities, andcommunity organizations. This would help reach greater numbers of prospectivestudents to inform their education decisions.

States can be proactive by using incometax data and state longitudinal data systems to identify aid-eligibleindividuals, including opportunity youth and adult returners. With thisinformation, these students can be contacted well before they apply to collegeand provided with more tailored information about their eligibility for aid.

Recommendations for Education Alignment

To ease the barriers and burden onstudents so they can realize their education goals, the white paper series offersthese recommendations to state policymakers.

  1. Set cleardirectives and deadlines for practitioners to co-develop pathways andguideposts for students to improve transfer and articulation.
  2. Adopt shared formsof accountability around attainment, transfer, and economic mobility.
  3. Fund sharedservices.
  4. Define and allocatestate aid with the student as the primary beneficiary, not the institution. 

The papers explore each of these recommendations at length and offers real-life examples. Please take a look and share your reactions on social media at #JFFPostsecondary

Impact Story

Postsecondary Network

Reforming math in Florida, ensuring equity in Washington, boosting student support in Michigan, partnering with the workforce system in New Jersey—JFF’s renowned network advances policies and practices that help all students attain high-value credentials. Reforming…

April 18, 2018

State Policy Paper Series: Strengthening Pathways toward Postsecondary Success

The emphasis in the papers on metrics, money, and systems integration reflects the collective vision of JFF’s Policy Leadership Trust for Student Success on the appropriate role of policy in catalyzing change among systems and…

September 17, 2018

States Must Step Up When Traditional Financial Aid Is Not Enough

The financial worries of today’s community college students reach far beyond tuition. To increase individual success, state policymakers and college leaders must broaden the financial help they offer.

December 18, 2018

States Need New Ways to Fund Student Success

It’s Time to Talk Dollars and Sense JFF commissioned a white paper to delve into the thorny issue of higher education finance and uncover creative solutions to this perennial problem. The paper, entitled Financing Pathways…

December 11, 2018