Louisville Recognized as Culture of Health Prize Winner

Louisville has been selected to receive the 2016 RWJF Culture of Health prize for its efforts in improving community health and well-being. 55,000 Degrees was recognized as a contributing force in these efforts through a collective impact approach, giving Louisville residents a greater chance at obtaining degrees and improving their quality of life.

Louisville Sets New Record in Education Attainment

Louisville’s adult population has set a new record for college attainment, according to 2015 data released this week from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Highlights of the data include:

  • The percentage of working-age adults with at least an associate degree now stands at 44.7 percent, up 3 percentage points over the previous year.
  • The percentage with at least a bachelor’s degree was also up to 35.7 percent, a 2.4 percentage point increase.
  • In addition, in the annual ranking of 15 “Peer Cities” tracked by the organization, Louisville moved up to the No. 9 position for adults with at least an associate’s degree, passing Greensboro, N.C.

These are the most significant gains since 55,000 Degrees was created in 2010.

College Signing Day 2016

April 22, 2016

More than 1,000 Seniors Sign Commitments to Earn Their Degrees
College Signing Day Held to Inspire Students and Celebrate Success

April 22, 2016 – More than 1,000 college-bound seniors in Jefferson County have been recognized for their commitment to go to college and earn a degree. The students were honored today at the College Signing Day 2016 celebration held at the KFC Yum! Center. This is the second year that Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), the KFC Yum! Center and 55,000 Degrees – Louisville’s higher education movement – have teamed up to host the event, which is held in association with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative.

“Each of the students gathered at this event are taking an important step – one that will not only secure their financial future, but will also help build the skilled workforce our city needs to remain competitive,” said Mayor Greg Fischer, chairman of 55,000 Degrees. “It’s important to celebrate these important decisions.”

Students from 25 JCPS high schools attended the celebration and heard from inspiring guests, met with representatives from their colleges and had a chance to meet with other JCPS students planning to attend the same school. Representatives from nearly two dozen colleges and universities, as well as the military, were in attendance this year for College Signing Day.

“Our JCPS vision is for all students to graduate prepared, empowered and inspired to reach their full potential, and one important way for us to reach that goal is by celebrating the success of our students and recognizing their commitment to go to college and earn a degree,” said JCPS Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens. “With high school graduation quickly approaching, College Signing Day offers seniors a fun and unique opportunity to get a jump start on planning for their new and exciting college experience in the fall.”

Student panelists from the University of Louisville, Bellarmine University, Spalding University, Jefferson Community & Technical College and Simmons College of Kentucky took part in a roundtable discussion and shared some of their college experiences with students. The College Signing Day celebration targets first-generation college students and is designed get students excited about college and reduce “summer melt,” a phenomenon where high school students accepted to college don’t follow through in the fall.

“Wouldn’t it be great if every student’s college signing moment was as closely watched as those of athletes?” said Mary Gwen Wheeler, executive director of 55,000 Degrees. “This is a great day when we celebrate the college signing of our future engineers, accountants, nurses, teachers and business leaders. They’ve taken an important first step to a great career – namely getting accepted by a college or university and committing to go!”

After the roundtable discussion, students fanned across the concourse of the KFC Yum! Center to participate in a series of breakout information sessions, where college representatives as well as representatives from UPS and the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA) provided valuable advice to students. New this year, approximately 60 JCPS middle school students also had the opportunity to attend College Signing Day and learn about the importance of completing their education past high school.

“We are thrilled to once again collaborate with JCPS and 55,000 Degrees to recognize students for their academic excellence and plans to continue their education,” said AEG Facilities’ KFC Yum! Center General Manager Dennis Petrullo. “It’s important for us to give back to the community and helping to shine a spotlight on the next generation of this city’s potential leaders is one of many ways we seek to do that.”

During their breakout sessions, seniors received a certificate with their school’s logo and returned to the bowl of the arena where they signed their commitment to continue their education and earn their degree.

Students also heard an inspiring message from keynote speaker Darnell “Superchef” Ferguson. Recently featured on the Food Network and The Rachael Ray Show, Ferguson shared with the students his journey to becoming a chef and how to achieve goals through tenacity.

During College Signing Day, students were encouraged to share their experiences on social media using the hashtag #SignLou.

College Signing Day would not have been possible without the hard work and support of many individuals. Special thanks to:

• Ben Davis and Kelly K. (WDJX)
• Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA)
• KFC Yum! Center

55,000 Degrees
55,000 Degrees is the ambitious initiative launched in 2010 with the goal of having 50 percent of Louisville’s working-age adults with college degrees by 2020. In 2014, Louisville had the highest percentage of working-age adults with a college degree in the community’s history at 41.5 percent. More information about 55,000 Degrees is available at www.55000degrees.org.

The Reach Higher Initiative
The Reach Higher initiative is First Lady Michelle Obama’s effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university. For more information, visit www.whitehouse.gov/reach-higher.

Jefferson County Public Schools
Educating more than 100,600 students a year, Jefferson County Public Schools is the largest school district in Kentucky and the 27th largest school system in the United States. The district boasts 18 magnet schools and 52 magnet programs at all levels, offers Advanced Placement classes at every school, and is home to 15 Five Star career-themed high schools, with the goal of creating community leaders who graduate college and career ready.

Louisville education leaders give presentation at White House

JCPS/55,000 Degrees work to encourage college completion lauded

(March 16, 2015) —  Louisville is continuing to receive national attention this week for its innovative efforts to help first generation college students successfully start and complete college, with two local education leaders speaking at the White House on Thursday.

Mary Gwen Wheeler, Executive Director of 55,000 Degrees, and Pamela Royster, College/Career Readiness Specialist with Jefferson County Public Schools, were invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to speak at the “Reach Higher Summit” about Louisville’s cooperative efforts to promote college completion. The Reach Higher Summit is part of the First Lady’s “Beating the Odds” focus, designed to highlight efforts to help children who grew up in challenging neighborhoods or contexts overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.

55,000 Degrees, an organization dedicated to increasing the percentage of Louisvillians with a college-degree by the 2020, works with JCPS in a variety of ways to help ensure that a higher percentage of JCPS graduates enroll in and complete college. At the summit, Wheeler and Royster specifically discussed local efforts to address “Summer Melt” – which refers to those high school seniors who indicate in the spring that they intend to go to college, but do not actually enroll or show up for classes that fall. That “melt” claimed the college dreams of about 16.8 percent of JCPS seniors in 2014, down from a high of 19.8 percent in 2013.

JCPS and 55,000 Degrees has worked jointly at addressing this phenomenon, by working to reinforce the value of a college degree and create a more robust college-going culture starting at least in middle school. For example, JCPS helps coordinate college-visits for 8th graders, works with students on career goal-setting, and holds college advisory time during the high school years. Several events, including Close the Deal and College Signing Day, also address summer melt by helping students become better prepared for the steps needed to successfully enroll in college.

55,000 Degrees supports those activities for younger students, and has facilitated the College Transition Action Network, which coaches students through that final critical summer between high school and college. By convening high schools, community partners and colleges, they have developed coordinated research-based practices – from text nudges to “near-peer coaches” who help high school graduates, particularly first-generation college students, navigate the final deadlines necessary to successfully start college.


Beverly Bartlett


Allison Martin


Job Posting: 55K Coordinator for Equity and Inclusion

Position Purpose:

Connect and champion equity-focused work among education and community partners leading to raised awareness and improved practices, with the goal of increasing excellence and equity in student outcomes.

Expected Outcomes:

  • Map/conduct asset inventory of groups doing work in education equity or targeted to underrepresented populations (build on work already done by 15K Degrees, city, etc.):
    • Ex’s – Ali Center, Whitney Young Scholars, Adelante, My Brother’s Keeper, JCPS Equity scorecard, Zones of Hope, Restorative Justice, Behold 1500 Latinos or El Sueño Centenario, Black Achievers, Men of Quality, SAAB, Porter Scholars
  • Facilitate alignment of various networks/initiatives, bringing together groups focused on similar goals (Louisville Latino Education Alliance, 15K, MBK, JCPS’ Envision Equity, etc.). Create space, conversation and alignment around “What’s missing?”
  • Use data to identify root causes, underlying issues of inequities in outcomes. Help guiding team set metrics and goals. Develop equity implementation strategies, based on collaborative system-building process (and/or Equity in Collective Impact approach- lead factor analysis)
  • Advocate for transparency in data and policies to ensure conditions change in partner education institutions:
    • students of color have access to kinds of courses that will enable them to qualify and be successful in postsecondary education
    • students of color receive targeted supports to assist with progress
    • teachers and faculty understand and deploy practices of inclusion
    • data are disaggregated and goals are set and followed

Preferred Qualifications

  • Demonstrated commitment to equity, social justice, and multicultural education.
  • Experience in conducting training workshops and in making oral presentations. Anti-bias training preferred.
  • Experience in implementing organizational change, focused on equity, social justice, and multicultural education.
  • Demonstrated leadership skills, including interpersonal communication and cultural competency.
  • Demonstrated competency in use of data for analysis and policy development.
  • Bachelor’s degree required. Graduate degree preferred.

Interested applicants should submit a resume and cover letter to info@55000degrees.org. Initial screenings will begin March 28 and interested applicants are encouraged to submit their resume by that date.


View the full description here


Expected Outcomes: