Project Win-Win

Project Win-Win involves 64 community colleges and four-year institutions authorized to award associate’s degrees. These institutions are located in nine states (Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia, and Wisconsin). They are engaged in the task of identifying former students, no longer enrolled anywhere and never awarded any degree, whose records qualify them for an associate’s degree, and get those degrees awarded retroactively. Simultaneously, these institutions identify former students who are “academically short” of an associate’s degree by no more than nine to 12 credits, find them, and seek to bring them back to complete the degree.

The initiative, undertaken in a partnership of IHEP and the State Higher Education Executive Officers serving as evaluators, and funded principally by Lumina Foundation for Education (and, for Michigan, by The Kresge Foundation), is a major expansion of a pilot program conducted in the fall and spring terms of 2009-10 in nine of the current 64 institutions and under the sponsorship of the Education Trust. The expansion took place in two phases: To 35 institutions in the fall of 2010, and to 64 in the fall of 2011.

Each school works through a sequence of (a) home data base analysis of student status, (b) matching qualifying students against state and National Student Clearinghouse data to eliminate those who either earned degrees elsewhere or are currently enrolled elsewhere, (c) subjecting the residual population to rigorous degree audits to determine whether they are truly eligible for the award of associate’s degrees or potential completers, and (d) locating the potential completers, contacting those found, and providing them with road-maps for completion.

The process takes two years to complete, with the largest proportion of that time spent on degree audits. The starting times for institutions are staggered, with 32 of the 64 just beginning in the fall of 2011 at the same time that the original nine schools finish their formal Project Win-Win work.

As of August 2011, 24 institutions, running 27 Win-Win projects, had identified over 44,000 students in the initial “universe of interest;” and 15 institutions had completed degree audits on 12,000 students (with 2,800 deemed eligible for associate’s awards, 6,200 potential completers, and 3,000 neither). Projecting those numbers out across both U.S. community colleges and four-year institutions that award associate’s degrees would yield, at a minimum, a 15 to 16 percent increase in the number of associate’s degrees awarded. This would be a considerable down-payment on the “big goals” of degree completion set by the Lumina Foundation for Education, the nation’s governors, and President Obama. These students are comparatively easy candidates for credentials.

All participating institutions were recruited by their state system higher education authority. Each institution receives a small grant to support its efforts, administered—with other support—by its state system office. All these institutions are also contributing a significant amount of staff time to this effort because they realize the potential of its impact not only on local graduation rates, but also on local regulations, the currency of degree requirements, and processes of communication with and advising of students.