Lumina Foundation Adopts New Tactics to Reach College-Completion Goal

January 10, 2013

The Lumina Foundation has announced a new strategic plan, identifying two broad areas of action that it will pursue in order to help the nation increase the number of college graduates.

First, the foundation will seek to spur communities, employers, state and local lawmakers, and higher-education leaders to adopt specific goals and actions to increase the number of students who earn postsecondary credentials.

Second, Lumina will help colleges and states develop new business and finance models that will lead to higher levels of college attainment.

Jamie P. Merisotis, the group's president, described the new strategic plan, announced on Wednesday, as a refinement of the foundation's tactics rather than a change of direction—another step in the organization's long-term shift away from awarding grants as part of its mission and toward its goal of increasing the percentage of Americans who hold "high-quality degrees and credentials" to 60 percent by 2025. The foundation set that goal in its 2009 strategic plan.

The new four-year plan represents something of a victory for Lumina, which has become the biggest foundation focused exclusively on student success in college. In large part, the nation's policy makers have embraced the goal of increasing college attainment, said Dewayne Matthews, Lumina's vice president for policy and strategy. Thirty-seven states have set their own college-completion goals, many with the help of Lumina or groups that have received support from Lumina, such as Complete College America.

And there has been some success in improving college-completion levels. The national college-attainment rate for adults ages 25 to 64 increased from 37.9 percent in 2008 to 38.3 percent in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.

More promising, say Lumina officials, is the attainment rate for young adults, ages 25 to 34, which is more than 39 percent.

While the improvements in college completion are small, what the foundation can provide now is more "leadership philanthropy" through expertise and guidance on ways to reach the organization's goal, said Mr. Merisotis.

The new strategic plan does not mean that Lumina will abandon its previous programs, such as the Degree Qualification Profile, which is meant to set standards for what students should learn at the associate-, bachelor's-, and master's-degree levels. In fact, such a program might well need to be expanded to include certificate programs, Mr. Merisotis said.

To bolster its policy bench, Lumina has hired two experts here to advise on state and federal practices. Julie R. Peller, who is now deputy staff director for the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Education and the Workforce, will be the foundation's strategy director of federal policy.

Zakiya Smith, formerly a senior policy adviser at the White House's Domestic Policy Council, will be Lumina's strategy director for student financial support, which includes both federal and state policies. It was previously reported that Ms. Smith had accepted a position with the Center for American Progress.

The new employees are not an indication that Lumina is seeking to establish itself as a lobbying force on Capitol Hill, said Mr. Merisotis.