Framing the Opportunity: Eight State Policy Recommendations that Support Postsecondary Credential Completion for Underserved Populations

This paper presents eight policy recommendations aimed at addressing a projected shortfall in the number of American workers available to fill jobs that require a postsecondary degree or credential.

Rachel Pleasants McDonnell
Michael Lawrence Collins
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Jobs for the Future
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

Postsecondary credentials are becoming the currency for economic mobility in the American economy. Sixty-five percent of all jobs in the United States will require a postsecondary degree or credential by 2020, but at the current rate that postsecondary institutions are awarding degrees, the United States is at risk to fall short by 5 million workers. This report identifies eight policy recommendations aimed at addressing that shortfall. These recommendations focus specifically on opportunity youth, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, and immigrants.

  • Political Leadership and Commitment. Make improving postsecondary outcomes for underrepresented and underserved populations a state priority
  • Data Systems Capacity and Use. Examine enrollment, retention, and completion data for immigrants, justice-involved individuals, opportunity youth, and other underserved populations to identify access and achievement gaps and set improvement targets.
  • Strong On-Ramps. Encourage or require the development of stronger on-ramps into postsecondary education from the institutions, organizations, and systems that work with underserved populations.
  • Ongoing Intensive Student Supports. Encourage or require ongoing, intensive supports, including transition counseling, career advising, academic advising, and non-academic support designed to address the unique needs of underrepresented populations.
  • Comprehensive Financial Aid. Make postsecondary education more affordable for underserved populations by ensuring access to in-state tuition, financial aid and scholarships, public benefits, and emergency funds.
  • Robust Career Pathways. Create robust career pathways with multiple exit and entry points as well as flexible learning options that help underserved populations balance work obligations and educational goals.
  • Braided Funding. Promote and facilitate the use of braided funding to increase the resources available for underserved populations.
  • Capacity Building and Continuous Improvement. Build the capacity of colleges and partner organizations to test and scale innovations for improving postsecondary success for underserved populations.
What the experts say

This resource is well worth the read to think about the multiple ways and structural changes needed to improve outcomes for populations of underserved learners. The recommendations touch on the work of many systems and organizations: postsecondary education, corrections education, Adult Basic Education, faculty and teacher development, student services, employer partnerships, institutional research, and more. It is well-written, provides lots of references and examples from multiple states, and is framed by research in both institutional policy and student experience.

The authors conclude with a statement that will resonate with many engaged in career pathways and who continue to struggle to ensure success for underserved learners: “We cannot be satisfied with general improvements in postsecondary completion if this means inadvertently widening achievement gaps and decreasing economic opportunity for those who need it most.”

This is a comprehensive compilation of policy recommendations to promote social justice and improved economic opportunity for underprivileged adults via postsecondary education and career development. The policy levers proposed are organized into eight clear categories. The document is clearly situated in the field of adult education and would be a useful resource for policymakers and funders concerned with adult education, as well as college personnel, adult education program designers, curriculum developers, counselors and advisors.

The most significant feature of Framing the Opportunity is its comprehensiveness. Many policy levers to promote economic opportunity and improved outcomes for low-skilled, disenfranchised adults are offered, each with clear justification and practical steps. Also, there is a useful schematic showing the current situation on page 8, and a clear depiction of the “guided pathways” concept on page 11. 

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