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June 2, 2016

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The following post was written by Jessica Crawford, America Forward Director of Strategic Partnerships and Sarah Groh, America Forward Manager

Too many students are failing to graduate college. Why? Because our assumptions about today’s students are wrong. Most of us envision college students as 18 to 21-year-olds fresh out of high school, but this is no longer the reality. Today’s students are older, more diverse, working, and raising families. Seventy-five percent of today’s students are financially independent and struggling to support themselves. Thirty percent struggle with learning and attention issues like Dyslexia and ADHD. Forty percent of today’s students come from low-income communities. As a result, today’s students often struggle under the burden of many stressors and too little support to navigate America’s outdated higher education system. While some colleges and universities have adapted their models to better serve today’s students, federal policy has failed to keep pace and is no longer meeting the needs of the majority of these students.

These factors present significant barriers to post-secondary access, persistence, and completion for students around the country, however, we know there are also powerful examples of solutions to effectively address and mitigate these challenges.

The more than 70 organizations that make up the America Forward Coalition work in over 14,500 communities across the country every day to scale effective and innovative community solutions to our country’s most pressing problems, including the challenges that often get in the way of post-secondary completion.

For example, Coalition organization Single Stop partners with community colleges and other organizations and entities to help vulnerable families and students gain economic mobility by connecting them to existing benefits and services intended for them. Since 2007, Single Stop and its partners have served nearly 1 million families and individuals, connecting them to over $2.8 billion in benefits, tax refunds, and supportive services.

Coalition Member YouthBuild USA engages young adults in working towards their high school credentials while learning job skills by building affordable housing and preparing for post-secondary education and career success. 61% of YouthBuild participants went on to post-secondary education or jobs and 72% of those placed retained their placement for at least six months.

Additionally, Coalition organizations like Beyond 12 strive to increase the number of traditionally underserved and underrepresented students who earn a college degree by integrating a personalized student coaching service with its longitudinal student-tracking platform. Eighty-two percent of students coached by Beyond 12 who graduated from high school in 2011 persisted to their third year of college compared to a 59% national third year persistence rate for similarly underserved students.

By leveraging insights from these local communities and organizations, pathways can be created for today’s students to attain marketable post-secondary credentials and develop the skills necessary to succeed in today’s economy.

As we turn to the general election this fall, America Forward is engaging with Congress and the presidential campaigns to share our solutions for updating those federal policies to better address the factors at the root of challenges faced by today’s students so that all students are equipped to succeed. Specifically, we encourage Congress and the next President to:

  1. Provide actionable information for students and families on post-secondary outcomes, financial aid, and available support services and accommodations.
  2. Target federal funding to develop and scale-up innovations that increase access to, persistence through, and completion of a post-secondary education.
  3. Invest in effective partnerships between post-secondary institutions and high-quality community partners at the local, state, and national level that provide critical expertise and capacity.
  4. Establish new forms of credentialing and certification for students that map skills and experience with job placement.
  5. Increase access to experiences that directly link classroom learning and credentials with career.
  6. Reform student aid programs to reduce debt burden.
  7. Expand participation in service year programs.

No one has a better take on what works than today’s students themselves. This summer, America Forward will host town halls with and for today’s students in Columbus, OH and Philadelphia, PA. As the Presidential candidates gather for nominating conventions, today’s students will be in town sharing their first hand stories of barriers, opportunities, and potential.

The Columbus town hall will be held on June 28th and the Philadelphia town hall will take place on July 19th. These town halls will bring together many of the students and recent graduates our Coalition organizations serve to lift up and give voices to the barriers today’s students face, as well as the effective, innovative community solutions to these challenges.

Please follow us on Twitter, #AFPresidential16 and on Facebook for additional details and contact Sarah Groh to learn more or share your #TodaysStudent story.

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