Policy Leadership Trust for Student Success

At a Glance

This select group of education leaders lets experience be their guide in developing state and federal policies that help students attain credentials for greater success in the labor market.





Areas of Work
  • Ensuring Equity in Advancement
  • Meeting Employer Needs
  • Preparing for the Future of Work
Experts Involved
In progress
  • AR
  • AZ
  • CT
  • FL
  • GA
  • HI
  • NC
  • NY
  • OH
  • OK
  • VA
  • WA

JFF established The Policy Leadership Trust for Student Success in 2015 to promote policy approaches for increasing college completion that are informed by the perspectives and experiences of postsecondary practitioners implementing evidenced-based reforms, such as guided pathways. 

Through the Trust, JFF is deliberately culling institutional knowledge and evidence to develop policy positions for how colleges and communities can help more students attain credentials and succeed in the labor market. 

The Trust currently comprises two dozen institutional and systems leaders drawn from JFF's Postsecondary State Network

Our Work

JFF works with the Policy Leadership Trust to develop state and federal policy recommendations and advocates for adoption of these recommendations through:
  • Strategic outreach to state and federal policy makers and influencers
  • Dialog with the field of postsecondary practitioners and stakeholders
  • Thought leadership in the media
  • Consultation and support of members of JFF’s Postsecondary State Network, including Student Success Centers

The Trust has recently released a set of policy design principles and a framework listing key policy priorities to accelerate college reforms and improve student success. Their recommendations are summarized below.   

Latest Thinking from the Trust


These eight design principles exemplify what practitioners on the Trust believe makes for good policy. The principles underlie the policy approaches recommended by the Trust in the state policy framework. For good policy, keep in mind:

No Silver Bullets

No single policy intervention will—on its own—move the needle on student success. Good policy takes a multi-pronged approach.

Context Matters

State context matters when designing policy. What is working in one state may not work in another because of differences in political landscape, priorities, governance, capacity, collaboration, and current and past reforms.

Flow from Practice

Policy should flow from practice, not the inverse. In most instances, it is better to use policy as a tool to accelerate implementation and scaling of proven practices that are already taking hold locally—rather than attempt through policy to ignite reforms that have yet to emerge.

Sense of Ownership

Policy is most likely to be implemented with fidelity when practitioners have informed the policy process and have a sense of ownership. Practitioners should have a seat at table when policy is developed.

Respect Autonomy

Good policy respects the autonomy of institutions over academic and student affairs. Policy ought not dictate curricular decisions.

No Rigid Prescriptions

Good policy does not prescribe rigid implementation of practices and models.

Catalyze Change

Good policy creates incentives and structures to catalyze change within institutions and among systems.

Use High-Level Directives

High-level directives can be useful at times in steering the direction of reform, deepening commitment, overcoming resistance, and creating leverage. Good policy creates the conditions and overarching expectations for systems and institutions to improve student success.


The Trust has crafted a framework for how state policy can catalyze systems change, improve student success, and build a postsecondary-trained workforce. 

The framework emphasizes the role of state policymakers in creating the conditions, incentives, and structures needed to foster clear pathways to credentials and careers for students and ensure their financial stability to achieve their goals.

Setting Conditions for Student Success

First and foremost, the framework calls for a focus on policy issues that create the building blocks for systems change: metrics, money, and alignment of systems. 

Meaningful Metrics

Establish meaningful metrics for increasing attainment rates of credentials of value, ensuring equity and economic mobility of low-income and underserved students, and building a skilled workforce.

Money that Matters

Provide adequate resources and appropriate incentives for institutions and systems to transform practices and help more students achieve their education and career goals.

Demand Driven

Deepen responsiveness to business and industry needs through meaningful engagement of employers in programmatic decisions and in widening access to work-based learning opportunities to ensure students have the skills and experiences for work.

Aligning Paths with K-12 & Four-Years

Forge alignment across secondary and postsecondary systems to make seamless and affordable pathways to credentials and high-demand careers for all students. Streamline paths from high school and adult education through associate and baccalaureate degree completion in students’ desired program of study.

Broader Support for Students

Foster collaboration between postsecondary and human services systems to maximize access and coordination of wraparound services, financial supports, and public benefits to bolster the financial stability of students and alleviate their financial hurdles to completion and career success.

Supporting Inquiry and Improvement

With these essential incentive structure in place, the Trust recommends that policymakers should build state and institutional capacity to identify key barriers to student success and implement evidence-based solutions, such as guided pathways.

Data-Informed Decision-Making

Enhance data systems to encourage a culture of inquiry in which institutions and systems apply data to identify barriers to student success and drive their decision-making on implementation of sound practices. Establish/enhance state-level longitudinal data systems to track student progress across K–12, workforce, and higher education systems and institutions.

Institutional Capacity

Invest in institutional capacity to implement evidence-based reforms by defraying upfront costs of implementing guided pathway practices, enhancing professional development of faculty and staff in support of student success efforts, and strengthening institutional capacity for data analysis and use of technology.

Statewide Infrastructure

Build statewide infrastructure for scale by developing state-level capacity to convene institutions to facilitate peer exchange and deliver expert consultation regarding evidence-based student success practices, as well as inform practitioners about the implications and opportunities of adopted policies.

Increase Flexibility

Remove policy barriers to encourage institutions to to experiment with implementing evidence-based practices.

Sustaining Solutions

After institutions and state systems have had time to implement and sufficiently scale student success reforms, it may then be appropriate to codify practices into policy. Doing so would help to sustain and scale momentum. It is essential that policymakers actively engage practitioners in the design of policy to ensure that policy is informed and supportive of good practice on the ground.


Evaluate efficacy and viability of scaling reforms before codifying into policy.


Provide formal opportunities for practitioners to inform policy design and rule-making.

Meet the Trust

PLT Scott Ralls

Scott Ralls, Co-Chair

President, Wake Tech Community College

PLT Marcia Ballinger

Marcia Ballinger, Co-Chair

President, Lorain County Community College

PLT Julie Alexander

Julie Alexander

Vice Provost, Miami Dade College

PLT Michael Baston

Michael Baston

President, Rockland Community College

PLT Tristan Denley

Tristan Denley

Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University System of Georgia

PLT Leigh Goodson

Leigh Goodson

President and CEO, Tulsa Community College

PLT David Harrison

David Harrison

President, Columbus State Community College

JH Headshot

Jennifer Haygood

Executive Vice President, North Carolina Community College System

PLT Jack Hershey

Jack Hershey

President, Ohio Association of Community College

PLT Maria Hesse

Maria Hesse

Vice Provost for Academic Partnerships, Arizona State University

PLT Jon Kerr

Jon Kerr

Director, Basic Education for Adults, Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges

PLT Kenneth Klucznik

Kenneth Klucznik

Transfer and Articulation, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities

PLT Michael Leach

Michael Leach

Executive Director, Arkansas Center for Student Success

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Russell Lowery-Hart

President, Amarillo College

PLT Sharon Morrissey

Sharon Morrissey

Vice Chancellor for Academic Services & Research, Virginia Community College System
"Good policy is strategic, evidence based, and integrated."

Dr. Camille Preus

Camille Preus

Executive Director, Oregon Community College Association

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Madeline Pumariega

Former Chancellor, Florida College System

PLT Peter Quigley

Peter Quigley

Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of Hawaii Community Colleges

PLT Karen Stout

Karen Stout

President and CEO, Achieving the Dream

PLT Randall VanWagoner

Randall VanWagoner

President, Mohawk Valley Community College

PLT Tonjua Williams

Tonjua Williams

President, St. Petersburg College

Members Emeritus

  • Lisa Chapman, Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, North Carolina Community College System
  • Tamara Clunis, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Amarillo College
  • Johanna Duncan-Poitier, Senior Vice Chancellor, State University of New York
  • Reynaldo Garcia, President Emeritus, Texas Association of Community Colleges
  • Maria Harper-Marinick, Chancellor, Maricopa Community Colleges
  • Lawrence Nespoli, (retired) President, New Jersey Council of County Colleges
  • Richard Rhodes, President, Austin Community Colleges
  • Mary Rittling (retired) President, Davidson County Community College
  • Debra Stuart, (retired) Vice Chancellor for Educational Partnerships, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education
  • Jan Yoshiwara, Executive Director, Washington State Board of Community & Technical Colleges