A look back and a look ahead: Lessons learned from an education movement

By Mary Gwen Wheeler, Executive Director

|| When our community started 55,000 Degrees in 2010, we knew it would take time to see changes in Louisville’s higher education attainment numbers. It would take institutional soul-searching, deep dives into data, relentless drive and multi-sector collaboration on a scale we hadn’t yet seen in our city.

In short, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. And we were right.

But nine years of hard work later, we know these efforts have been worth it.Our city has increased the number of degrees by 39,000 – up from 38.5 % to 45.5% of the population with a college degree – and are on track to make even more gains by the end of 2020. While this falls short of our goal of 55,000 college degrees, we know that the lessons learned through this initiative have helped us to gain momentum, and will guide our community as we continue to work toward increased education attainment. It has set a road map that led to the creation of a comprehensive, collaborative governance approach and a successor organization, Evolve502. In its early stages of implementation, the intention is to build a lasting civic infrastructure to effect system change at scale, and to fund the Evolve502 Promise Scholarship to guarantee free tuition for a two-year community college degree for any JCPS graduate.

As we head into the last year of this 10-year initiative, 55,000 Degrees is looking back and looking forward. On this page, The View From 55,000 Degrees, we will reflect on what we have learned, what has worked for our community, and what more needs to be done. There are lessons to be learned in the stories of that work, so over the next few months we will be talking more in-depth about these efforts and learnings. Among them:

 

  • The importance of all stakeholders working together, collectively, toward a common goal.
  • How our local postsecondary institutions have increased graduation rates despite declining enrollment.
  • How data collected and shared by 55K improved the way we work in Louisville.
  • The importance of crossing sectors and breaking down silos between institutions.
  • How we, as a community, learned that the path to college starts far earlier than high school and the work that must be done to remove those early barriers.
  • The difficulty in closing equity gaps, and the courage needed for changes in policy and practice to make that happen.
  • The challenge of helping adult learners – those with only a high school degree, or those some college, but no degree – come back to school and complete a quality postsecondary credential.

 

55K and its partners have worked hard to make progress in increasing postsecondary attainment. Changing systems and removing barriers to education is not easy. It’s arduous, it’s complex, and it takes time. But it is necessary and, with continued collaboration, we believe it’s possible. We look forward to sharing with you our perspective from the last nine years in the trenches, so that our community may use these learnings to bring lasting, generational change to Louisville.

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