Strong Start To Finish

$8.5 Million in Grants Awarded to States to Scale Effective Higher Education Practices and Student Success Strategies

DENVER (February 6, 2018) — Strong Start to Finish (SSTF) today awarded grants totaling $8,525,000 to higher education systems committed to get students onto successful pathways to college completion while addressing attainment gaps for historically-underserved populations.

Forty-seven letters of interest in the grant opportunity were submitted by states, higher education systems, regional consortia and metropolitan areas committed to integrating developmental education and guided pathways reforms in ways that will empower low-income students, students of color and returning adults to pass college math and English courses and enter a program of study by the end of their first academic year.

Nine entities were invited to submit full proposals, each of which underwent extensive review by members of the SSTF Expert Advisory Board, philanthropic leaders and SSTF staff using a standardized scoring rubric. All nine proposals were strong but four emerged as exemplary for their use of evidence-based practices and commitment to achieve greater equity. Each of the following will receive $2.1 million over three years and each presents a unique context for learning how systems can effectively support student success in the first year of college. In the aggregate, hundreds of thousands of students will be served during the term of the grant.

  • The City University of New York (CUNY). CUNY will use SSTF funds to steadily replace traditional, stand-alone remedial courses with expanded versions of existing high-impact co-requisite courses. Faculty at all ten associate-granting colleges will be engaged in designing and implementing new courses aligned with degree maps. CUNY's Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) will benefit more than 25,000 students every year, at least 70 percent of whom will be black or Hispanic and 65 percent of whom will be Pell grant recipients. CUNY aims to double the numbers of new students completing both math and English gateway courses each year, from 8,200 to 16,000, and drastically shrink achievement gaps between black or Hispanic students and Asian or white students.
  • Ohio Department of Higher Education. Ohio has a robust performance funding system to stimulate improvement, but widespread change is challenging to achieve across the state's decentralized system. Postsecondary leaders are committed to deepen engagement and ownership of change among individual institutions and faculties. Eighteen community colleges and twelve universities will participate in the grant. Currently, only 33% of first time students at participating institutions complete college-level math and English in their first year. Leaders in Ohio have committed to increase that number to 50% by 2021, including reducing equity gaps for economically disadvantaged students, students of color, rural students and students over age 25.
  • State University of New York (SUNY). SUNY is the largest postsecondary system in the nation. All 30 of its community colleges and nine four-year colleges will be directly engaged in the SSTF grant. Developmental education will transform to become an "on-ramp" to guided pathways with multiple measures for placement, advising reforms and integrated student supports to ensure access and equity and help more students of color, low income students and returning adults to succeed. SSTF funds will be used to expand use of Quantway/Statway Math Pathways to ensure that students enroll and succeed in math classes appropriate to their chosen academic area; supports needed for success in English will also be expanded systemwide.
  • University System of Georgia (USG). USG is the nation's fifth largest system by total student enrollment and will engage all 28 of its institutions in the grant. SSTF funds will support systematic expansion of the state's Momentum Year program to ensure each incoming student successfully completes appropriate gateway math and English courses and enters a chosen academic focus area. Students will be encouraged to develop an academic mindset and attempt 30 degree-hours including a minimum of three courses in their chosen academic focus area. Extra support will be provided where needed alongside or embedded in their coursework as a "corequisite" rather than a pre-requisite to credit-bearing work.

Each of the winning sites has established strong partnerships with key technical assistance providers such as Achieving the Dream (ATD), American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), Charles A. Dana Center, Community College Research Center (CCRC), Complete College America (CCA), Jobs for the Future (JFF), John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, Motivate Lab at the University of Virginia, Sova Solutions and WestEd.

Many of these organizations recently worked together to develop Core Principles to address emerging postsecondary needs and vastly improve system equity for historically-underserved students.

"Ultimately, these grants are an accelerant," said Christopher Mullin, director of SSTF. "Change in the field is already happening; the point is to 'fan the flame' to more quickly achieve system equity and a balance between student needs and operating realities in colleges nationwide."

An additional $25,000 will be awarded to each of the other finalists - California State University system, California Community Colleges system, Houston GPS, Minnesota State Colleges and University system and Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU) - to support their participation in a learning network hosted by SSTF that aims to deepen the evidence base, look closely at how to scale exemplary strategies and gain a better understanding of the institutional capacity, costs and policy supports needed to expand proven approaches.

Funding for SSTF has been provided by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates and The Kresge Foundation. Strong Start to Finish is supported by Education Commission of the States (ECS), a nonpartisan policy nonprofit organization.

"These grants will make a critical connection between developmental education reforms and guided pathways so that many more historically underserved students will succeed," said Amy Kerwin, Vice President, Community Investments, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates and Chair of the Strong Start to Finish Funder Advisory Board. "This is also a new, deeply collaborative opportunity for philanthropy," she said. "It's a new way of working to achieve a new level of results."

"This represents a transition from a system that served some students well to a system that serves all students well," said Uri Treisman, Chair of the SSTF Expert Advisory Board and founder of the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

"In our outreach and consultation with state policy leaders, we're seeing a distinct trend among states in moving this work forward-which is great news for students, colleges and the economy," Brian Sponsler, Vice President, Policy, at Education Commission of the States.

SSTF ultimately aspires to see developmental education reforms and guided pathways connected in all 50 states and a significant increase in the number of students completing degrees, licenses and certificates with labor market value.

For additional information please view or contact Christopher Mullin, Director, at or (850) 661.5784.

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Christopher Mullin, Director


About Strong Start to Finish

Strong Start to Finish is part of a growing network of higher education leaders and institutions, foundations and nonprofits pooling knowledge and funding to build a transformative framework for postsecondary education, ensuring millions of previously underserved students succeed in their first year of college and graduate career-ready.

The SSTF action plan: 

  • Expand the use of evidence-based practices in a set of states, postsecondary systems and metropolitan regions to help more students get off to a strong start.
  • Start in a few key areas, awarding competitive grants of up to $2.25 million to bring this knowledge to scale.
  • Learn together as we work, by systematically building and sharing knowledge.
  • Maximize philanthropic return on investment through innovative collaboration.