BridgeEdU Reveals Top Five Challenges and Opportunities for the Future of College Access

BridgeEdU Reveals Top Five Challenges and Opportunities for the Future of College Access

With fierce global competition and the rising cost of living, college access and college completion have never been more critical for earning middle-class wages, especially for the under-served population where many of them are fighting their way out of poverty.

Via UC Davis Center for Poverty Research

BridgeEdU asked leaders from the recent National College Access Network (NCAN) Conference to give us their take on the top challenges and opportunities for college access. NCAN members include foundations, non-profit, and for-profit organizations with the goal of preparing students for college, many of which are Pell Eligible, Underrepresented Minorities, and First Generation.

These organizations are on the front line, supporting students. Their experiences, therefore, provide real-time insight into industry difficulties and opportunities for advancement. We meet each challenge as a chance to grow, and invite you to read and enjoy!


1. Remove Barriers to Collaboration – There were 1,000 attendees at the conference, all representing different organizations, focused on different parts of the access problem. How can we consolidate and collectively leverage our voice, impact, resources, and audience at scale? Imagine if we all put our weight behind three singular goals and how much momentum that would create for our industry and individual organizations.

2. Scale High Touch – Regardless of how much technology exists, the value of high-touch student support services is irreplaceable. There is just no substitution for that caring success coach or counselor. So, how can we refine high-touch services to be more scalable and cost-effective?  Can we look at the intersection of psychology and tech for cases where technology solutions support high-touch services?

3. Mandate Corporate Responsibility – Ultimately, we are preparing students for jobs in the workforce. Future employers have a direct role and stake in employee readiness, yet the institutions that will be hiring our students are too often not in our conversations. Could we, for example, require businesses to hire at least three interns? Insist corporations have at least one career shadow day per quarter? Make partnerships between US corporations and a higher ed institution a regular practice? While some of this is already happening locally, these practices need to sustain and expand. We already have the footing to begin this work. Many of our board members lead large organizations- how can we leverage the strength of our boards?

4. Eliminate K-12 and Higher Education and Replace with a K-16 Experience– We have to connect the K-16 experience so that high schools and colleges are jointly working towards quality graduation and job attainment. There is a cheapening of expectations and accountability when high schools prioritize graduation headcount, and colleges care about enrollment numbers. Both institutions need to care about students having the tools to be successful in college and onward.

5. Leverage Social Media Connections To Scale – The young people we support are the best advocates for College Access Programs. So, how can we amplify that? How can we pull their collective voices through social media and other mediums to reach and advocate on behalf of others? How can we harness the energy of their experiences to ignite fundraising efforts and move policy forward? Millions of students have a voice, and they need to be heard to advance the cause.

Many other challenges and opportunities were discussed, such as consolidating funding sources, changing pedagogy to motivate under-performers, mining and recruiting talent in college access, and easing the financial aid process.  The infrastructure of effective policy change is solidarity and allied understanding. We rely on the unique experience and perspective you contribute to build a more comprehensive view. Join our list of influential contributors to participate in these exciting conversations, build relationships with the professionals who are working to improve the industry, and receive feedback.

We will collect and refresh this list in the upcoming weeks.

We thank the following organizations and people who provided information to us for this interview.

Angela Hamilton, Senior Director of Youth Development, Chicago Urban League

Antonio Brown, Coordinator, National Males of Color Initiative, Summer Search

Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation, NCAN

Bob Ballard, CEO, Scholarship for America

Bonnie B. Sutton, President, and CEO, College Access Foundation

Danielle Binion, Career Academies Coordinator, Prep KC

George Covino, Vice President, Student Success

Karen Balliet,  Senior Program Director, Solon E Summerfield Foundation

Keith Frome, CEO, and Co-Founder, College Summit

Kory C. Hawkins, Deputy Director-University of California Office of the President Division of Diversity and Engagement

Lydia Wims, Director of Student Support Services, University of Kentucky

Matt Agilar, Chief Operating Officer, College Spring

Natalia Zafferano, Program Manager, UCLA Middle and High School Diversity Project

Samuel Rowser, Executive Director, Onpoint for College

Shirley Acevedo Buontempo, Founder, and Executive Director, Latino U College Access Network

Tim Renick, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success, Georgia State University