NLC Releases Postsecondary Success Project Lessons

Press Release
Press Release

NLC’s Institute on Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) this week released Lessons from the Communities Learning in Partnership (CLIP) Initiative. The report, the latest product of the YEF Institute’s ten-year partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, extracts key findings on municipal leadership from the nation’s largest private investment to date in community-wide partnerships to increase college completion rates.

The CLIP initiative created opportunities for 11 cities to advance multi-sector partnerships to promote postsecondary success for low-income young adults. Four cities received generous funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and seven more “affiliated” cities participated in peer learning opportunities. The four city initiatives funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: San Francisco’s Bridge to Success, New York City’s Graduate NYC!, Riverside’s Completion Counts and Mesa’s Counts on College – joined other nationally prominent, locally-funded efforts such as Success Boston, Portland’s (Ore.) Future Connect, Louisville’s 55,000 Degrees, and Degree Phoenix in the CLIP learning community.   

Lessons from the CLIP Initiative primarily draws on four years of implementation experience in San Francisco, New York City, Riverside, Calif. and Mesa, Ari.  Each city’s project team, often convened by the mayor and made up of officials from the school district and local community college, targeted systems change opportunities. These changes, in areas such as data use and sharing, partnership structure and institutional policy, laid the groundwork for long-term improvement in student outcomes.  

Why this focus on improvement on outcomes? Because higher education is increasingly a prerequisite for most living-wage jobs. And because baseline calculations found that only about 10 percent of low-income students across the country are leaving community college with a credential or successful transfer after six years.

With this national challenge in mind, the report highlights four key findings:

  • Setting and pursuing citywide goals makes good use of the power and position of a mayor’s office to build public will and raise awareness.  For instance, Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey issued a “report card” naming citywide baselines and future goals. Louisville, Ky. Mayor Greg Fischer helms the citywide push for 55,000 (more) postsecondary degrees.
  • Starting with a focus on expanding postsecondary access and affordability lays the groundwork for further efforts to improve college persistence and completion. San Francisco altered policy to create early registration opportunities for incoming San Francisco United School District students at City College, thus providing pathways to better retention and more rapid completion.  New York City built a new website connecting parents, students and advisers to information on nearly 200 sources of assistance across all five boroughs.
  • Existing local economic and workforce development strategies provide a helpful framework for new postsecondary success initiatives.  Mayor Scott Smith and the project team in Mesa integrated college completion into the city’s Health, Education, Aerospace, and Tourism (HEAT) priorities.  Riverside Completion Counts informed two planks of the city’s Seizing our Destiny strategic plan, which focuses on workforce upgrades and lifelong learning for all.
  • Cities and education partners can use and share selected data to understand baseline conditions, drive local strategies and monitor progress to promote postsecondary success.  As one mark of progress, several cities shared school district, community college and National Student Clearinghouse data in new ways to permit a “loss point analysis” of when students were leaving school without credentials in order to guide strategy development.  

Overall, the report finds that the experience and lessons from CLIP affirm the benefits that communities can gain by mobilizing a multi-sector postsecondary completion partnership with prominent city involvement. For CLIP cities, having municipal officials infuse leadership, strategic thinking and staffing into broader partnership efforts demonstrably supports significant, additional system outcome achievements, paving the way for improved student-level outcomes. The cumulative experience of CLIP cities builds momentum toward future implementation of and innovation in multi-sector partnerships, as in NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Postsecondary Success initiative.

For more information:   NLC’s YEF Institute continues to support postsecondary success partnerships in the 11 CLIP sites, and in nearly 20 other cities as well.  See the NLC Higher Education web page for ongoing updates, or contact Marjorie Cohen, Principal Associate for Education, at  In addition, the CLIP project evaluator – the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning – is releasing a complementary series of policy briefs on lessons learned in each of the system change areas, available at:

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