College students deserve access to quality education that helps them land a secure job and contribute to their community in a meaningful way. Recognizing that various barriers to access exist for a multitude of reasons, Strada Education Network launched its $10 million Beyond Completion Challenge and recently announced the recipients of four $1.5 million grants as part of this initiative.
Strada’s Beyond Completion Challenge partners with higher education institutions to provide vital funding to launch, test, and scale initiatives to help students succeed. The grants are designed to propel existing efforts to ensure that students, especially students of color, first-generation students, and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, are positioned to graduate and accomplish their goals post-graduation. The grantees are Arizona State University, Rio Salado College, the University of Texas, and the University of Utah explored below.
Arizona State University will expand its Work+ program and pilot it at other schools with the new grant allocations to use along with funding from the first phase of the Beyond Completion Challenge. The Work+ program aims to reshape the experience of learners directly employed by the university. By implementing mentorship, peer feedback, and educational programming, the program boosts existing student employment while strengthening student career readiness. The expansion of Work+ will now cover all 12,000 working learners at ASU with the new grant funds. Additionally, the grant will support the launch of Work+ pilot programs at eight other institutions across the country, potentially reaching over 19,000 students.
“We’re thrilled to have this support to expand the Work+ program to all 12,000 working learners at ASU and thousands more through our partnerships with other two- and four-year institutions,” said Sukhwant Jhaj, Vice Provost for Academic Innovation and Student Achievement at Arizona State University. “It’s time to reinvent work-and-learn programs so they deliver much greater value for our learners during their time on campus. This program will deliver the relevant career skills that students expect and employers value.”
Rio Salado Community College will use the grant to expand its Custom Academic Readiness and Essential Employment Reskilling (CAREER) program. The college’s CAREER program assists students seeking basic literacy, GED test preparation, workforce preparation, and career training to build academic and employment skills. The project will also improve equitable access to college and career services.
“Workplace skills and requisite knowledge are changing more rapidly than ever, leading to more adults coming back to college to unlock greater opportunities in their chosen profession,” Rio Salado College President Kate Smith said. “Rio Salado and community colleges across the country are answering the call. Through this support, our Custom Academic Readiness and Essential Employment Reskilling program will now be able to equip 5,000 adult learners with the tools and resources they need to select and complete valuable certificates, credentials, and degrees, which translate into real- world earnings and strengthen local economies.”
The University of Texas system will use the funding to enhance its system-wide Texas Credentials for the Future initiative, which also received Strada funding in the first phase of the Beyond Completion Challenge. This initiative infuses career readiness into the undergraduate curriculum, providing opportunities for students to gain relevant industry microcredentials and skills badges at no additional cost. The initiative will reach 30,000 students across the system's 13 institutions.
The University of Utah will extend the University of Utah West Valley College2Career program to support West Valley, Utah, an underserved community. The grant will help provide college and career services, career pathways, and financial aid support for high-demand health care careers as well as create more direct pathways for students and adult learners to pursue health careers. The collaboration between the West Valley community, University of Utah, and University of Utah Health and hospital system will serve at least 3,600 students from low-income communities and communities of color, using the grant to expand on the University Neighborhood Partners’ place-based approach.
“These four institutions have already found ways to support the success of their learners beyond completion,” said Stephen Moret, Strada Education Network president and CEO. “We are excited to provide these grants so they can reach more learners than ever before and expand to new communities and even other institutions that are joining their efforts. We are honored to have the opportunity to support such forward-thinking and acting partners.”
The grant recipients exhibit the second phase of Strada’s $10 million Beyond Completion Challenge. The first phase included 15 institutions receiving a total of up to $250,000 each, with the goal to identify and expand new solutions to improve student outcomes beyond graduation. The second phase grantees received $1.5 million each to expand and evaluate their initiatives over a three-year grant cycle. Programs in this phase will provide tailored career and professional support to thousands of students across the four higher education institutions.