Goal 2025: 60% of Americans with Degrees

Community, EdTech, Federal & National Policy, Higher Ed & Post Sec, Learning, Learning Design, State Policy

The Lumina Foundation leads and supports American efforts to boost degree completion from about 40% to 60% by 2025. Launched in 2000, the Indianapolis-based foundation is focused on quality degrees as well as recognized job credentials.

Improving completion rates at existing universities will help but the twenty point gap represents an invention challenge. To achieve the goal in ten years, existing institutions must operate with much higher completion rates and new accelerated affordable pathways must be created.

Lumina thinks “institutions must redesign across the board so that they become more student-centered and attainment-focused. They must adopt data- and evidence-based policies and practices that close attainment gaps and improve overall completion rates.”

Lumina’s full court press on the 60% goal is made up of six programs of work: communities, advocacy, HigherEd mobilization, financial supports, business models and credentials.

Mobilizing Communities

Cities are a critical, perhaps most productive, unit of change when it comes to improving learning opportunities (as discussed in Smart Cities). Haley Glover leads Lumina strategy to mobilization employers and communities to increase higher education attainment in communities and cities across the country.

Like effective community college business advisory groups, it’s regional efforts that translate workforce needs into educational pathways. Watch this short video on community partnership for attainment

Mobilize HigherEd

To mobilize HigherEd to become more student-centered and success-focused, Lumina emphasizes wider and better use of data including collecting, disaggregating, analyzing and using data on student persistence and attainment to increase their effectiveness. The foundation sponsors multi-campus information sharing collaboratives. (See a guidebook for supporting low-income students.)

Improving Federal and State Policy

To reach Goal 2025, Lumina encourages states to “build student-centered, outcomes-based postsecondary education systems with the capacity to reach much higher levels of attainment.” They have full time people working 5 states, part time advocates in 14 states.

To combine top-down and bottom up work, Lumina is active advocate on federal policy (see recent paper on on transforming federal regulation of HigherEd).

Developing New Models of Student Financial Supports

The Lumina team argues that the financial aid model is broken and outdated leaving HigherEd unaffordable for too many potential students. More than 40 million Americans have student loan debt totaling $1.2 trillion. Student debt doubled over the last 7 years and about 40% of these loans aren’t repaid.

Lumina advocates for affordable HigherEd–that learner should be able to repay the cost of the cost of college with savings of 10% over 10 years. (More simply, ASU president Michael Crow said that graduates shouldn’t leave with more debt than they’d incur buying a Honda Civic.)

In addition to affordability, the foundation advocates for HigherEd costs that are predictable, transparent costs with incentives to complete.

Supporting New Models of HigherEd

Traditional delivery systems can’t be scaled up cost-effectively to meet the growing demand. Business models are as antiquated as delivery models. Team Lumina thinks we need “new and more productive business models – models that are specifically geared to mesh with these new, lower-cost modes of academic delivery.” New models will require funding and policies that create incentives for completion and remove barriers to change (see paper on Outcomes-Based Funding).

Kevin Corcoran, who leads business model exploration, said Lumina has made a significant bet on competency-based education (CBE). It’s based on a map of what students should know and be able to do and includes valid and authentic assessments of those skills. Lumina sponsors a network of CBE pilot sites including 15 universities that met readiness of the U.S. Department of Education’s Competency-Based Experiment.

Building a New System of Credentials

The nation has no organized system of credentials (e.g., degrees, certificates, industry-awarded certifications, diplomas, digital badges, other micro-credentials) and there is a poorly aligned complex patchwork that no longer meets the needs of students or businesses.

Holly Zanville who leads the foundation’s credentialing strategy said the foundation is working in four areas to create a more coherent, connected  credential framework:

  1. Hosting a national dialogue on credentialing that will lead to an action plan addressing five priorities: developing a common language; using technology and real-time data; creating nimble quality-assurance processes; developing scalable ways of engaging employers; and building credentialing pathways to increase equity.
  2. Sponsoring tools and frameworks to inform quality learning practices and policies (e.g., beta Credential Framework, Degree Qualifications Profile) Promoting recognition of credentials (e.g., building national Credential Registry; developing competency-based transcripts models)Testing new pathways to credentials (e.g.,  guided, reverse transfer, military crosswalks to civilian credentials, credit for year of service, work to learn, math pathways, accelerated degrees).

Recent work has focused on a Degree Qualifications Profile, “A learning-centered framework for what college graduates should know and be able to do to earn the associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree.” A recent edition of Lumina’s newsletter also focused on tomorrow’s transcript.

A panel of credentialing experts said we’ll know about the wide array of current efforts in 2 years and may see substantial landscape change in 5 years.

Investing for Impact

John Duong directs Lumina’s impact investing agenda. The foundation seeks to mobilize $1 billion for Goal 2025 in part by catalyze 10-20 times the capital they invest in promising startups. They hope to help drive 205 innovations each year.

Since joining seven months ago, Duong has made to equity investments in EdTech startups promoting college completion. The first two Lumina investments (Program Related Investment structured as equity) are digital credential service provider Credly and student support system BridgeEdU.

Jonathan Finkelstein, CEO of Credly, said credentials are simply verified claims. In the way that a driver’s license signals “trained driver” to a car rental company, credentials should reliably signal employers. Finkelstein said there are over 8,000 organizations issuing alternative credentials. Rather than being a problem, he thinks digitally presented credentials can add transparency, data and evidence of best work, security, and trackability.

Last week Credly announced the closing of a $2.5 million seed financing round led by University Ventures and New Markets Venture Partners with participation from Lumina Foundation Venture Fund.

Finkelstein claims Credly will help promote “better outcomes for individuals and the institutions that serve them by capturing and conveying skills accurately and at the right grain size.”

Wes Moore, CEO of BridgeEdU said, “Potential is universal, opportunity is not.” The startup is trying to change that by transforming the first year of college for low income students with advice on financial aid orientation, year round coursework, and tech-enabled success coaching. The mobile-first platform is free to students; the program paid for by the universities because it dramatically increases the likelihood of continuation and completion.

For more on Lumina see

For more on impact investing and credentialing see:


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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.

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