FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education announced Tuesday it has received a $2.1 million grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation to create a new statewide initiative to improve equity and close outcome gaps on college campuses.

The effort, called the Kentucky Student Success Collaborative, will serve as the first statewide center in the country that works with both two- and four-year institutions, linking campuses with business leaders and state policymakers and could make Kentucky a national leader in developing strategies for student achievement, according to the CPE.

The announcement marks the largest privately funded grant that CPE has ever received. It will support the collaboration for three years, funding three employees. CPE is providing a $747,000 in-kind match comprised of administrative support and existing resources.

“This initiative will help drive institutional change at every level,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “All Kentuckians deserve equitable access to a high-quality college education, and our campuses have developed tremendous momentum toward that goal. Now is the time to scale up with a concentrated, statewide effort that expands on their work. I want to thank the James Graham Brown Foundation for this gift and CPE for their steadfast leadership in this area.”

Housed at the Council’s offices in Frankfort, the collaborative will focus on information sharing, professional development and assistance with research and analysis. The goal is to help campuses develop innovative approaches that will improve graduation rates, close equity gaps, enhance workforce development and increase learning opportunities for emerging leaders in higher education.

The initiative will also connect campuses with local communities, businesses, policy experts and other external resources that can improve student outcomes.

Mason B. Rummel, president and chief executive of the Louisville-based foundation, said CPE received the grant due to expertise in student success policies and its track record in driving a statewide, student-focused agenda. She believes the partnership will reduce the time required to launch the initiative.

“Student success is a priority for our foundation because we believe that equitable educational attainment will increase economic and social mobility for Kentuckians,” Rummel said. “Kentucky’s colleges and universities are eager to address equity and student success, but there are questions about ‘the how’ of transformation that don’t have easy answers. We are supporting the KYSSC because we believe it will help Kentucky find those answers and to go faster by going together.”

In 2015, Kentucky established the 60x30 goal, an ambitious effort to raise the percentage of working-age Kentuckians with a high-quality postsecondary degree or certificate to 60% by the year 2030. But graduation rates remain much lower for certain groups of students, including first-generation, low-income and underrepresented minority students, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse.

CPE President Aaron Thompson said the statewide network will ensure diverse voices are helping identify challenges and foster change, as leaving institutions to work in isolation too often produces limited and redundant results.

“Our approach will provide a powerful tool for lasting reforms,” Thompson said. “The collaborative creates a balanced, equitable footing to transform higher education and create new opportunities that uplift all of our students. We look forward to our continued collaboration with our campuses on these goals, and I want to thank the incredible team at the James Graham Brown Foundation for their commitment to our efforts.”

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