Bellwether Education Partners is a national nonprofit focused on dramatically changing education and life outcomes for underserved children. We do this by helping education organizations accelerate their impact and by working to improve policy and practice.
Bellwether envisions a world in which race, ethnicity, and income no longer predict opportunities for students, and the American education system affords all individuals the ability to determine their own path and lead a productive and fulfilling life.
What challenge is this solution working to address?
In the early part of the 20th century, Americans’ educational attainment climbed steadily, as more and more Americans completed high school and trickled into higher education. That educational progress contributed to large and broadly shared economic gains. While the value of education has only increased over time, and education remains one of the best predictors of later-life success, degree completion rates for low-income students are dramatically lower and pale in comparison with students from the highest quartile of family incomes.
What, then, holds students, and especially low-income students, back from postsecondary success? The barriers – academic, financial, logistical, and cultural – are nearly universal across the country, but manifest in different ways across regions and ecosystems.
A number of college access and success organizations, such as OneGoal and Beyond 12, have sprouted up and are working within communities to get low-income students to and through college. Similarly, more school districts and charter networks are beginning to recognize that their job extends beyond high school graduation and have begun investing significant resources in supporting their students through a variety of postsecondary pathways. That work is extended by leading-edge postsecondary institutions, such as Georgia State University, the University of North Texas, and Franklin & Marshall College, which are studying the barriers holding their students back and then systematically changing their practices. And initiatives such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Postsecondary Success” are amplifying innovative approaches, challenges, and ongoing needs around improving outcomes for students. But taken together, these initiatives form a fragmented landscape – and too many students are falling through the cracks in too many places. Although postsecondary education is a bigger market with more choice and mobility than K-12, most college students, especially those from low-income households, tend to enroll close to home. That calls for a tailored approach that tackles the unique local challenges, carried out through intentional collaboration between on-the-ground actors: K-12 and postsecondary educators, district, community, and business leaders, and private funders. That’s why Bellwether Education Partners is seeking a partner to tackle this issue in a region-specific approach.
To help take this massive problem and distill practical, research- and policy-based insights for on-the-ground stakeholders, we propose diving into a representative state (now identified as Texas – see below) to identify where in the pipeline that region’s students are most likely to fall through the cracks, and why. We would research the “starting point” of the region looking across secondary schools and four-year, two-year, and technical colleges that serve large populations of low-income or first-generation students.
This Solution Is Agile Because…
Bellwether will work collaboratively with stakeholders from regional operators (K-12 and postsecondary), the philanthropic community, and other local partners to develop a roadmap to guide the implementation of college-ready strategies in Texas. Bellwether will design the process; conduct focused research and gather input from national and local thought leaders on best practices; share existing research on relevant policies, efforts, and organizations; surface bright spots and highlight trade-offs; and co-facilitate discussions related to key decisions. Throughout, we will engage stakeholders to provide incoming perspectives and reflections on what has and hasn’t worked to date; react to potential options and provide feedback; and inform – and ultimately champion – the strategies for the plan.