Former Indiana higher education commissioner Stan Jones will publicly launch his new organization during a conference call
Tuesday from Washington, D.C.
Jones is now president of Complete College America, a not-for-profit backed by five major charitable groups, including the Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation for Education.
Those foundations, along with three others, have pledged $12 million over four years to help College Complete America work with state executives and legislators to improve the percentage of college students who actually earn degrees.
At the event, Jones will report data on college completion rates in the 16 states that have signed up so far. He hopes better reporting of the poor completion rates at colleges around the country will spark governments, not-for-profits and corporations to take action.
“It’s an issue whose time has come,” said Jones, who ended his 14-year run as higher ed commissioner in April 2009. “The country really for the last 40 or 50 years has focused on access [to college]. It’s really in only the last 10 years or so that we’ve said access isn’t enough.”
Indiana is one of the 16 states joining College Complete’s effort. At state-funded, four-year colleges in Indiana, only 55 percent of enrollees graduate within six years. At public two-year community colleges, only 14 percent of students graduate in three years.
The community college number concerns Jones the most, since roughly 45 percent of all college students are enrolled at such schools, he said. He said he expects College Complete America to have “a lot of focus generally on community colleges.”
Jones leads a staff of four from College Complete’s office in Washington, D.C. The organization also claims an Indiana office because Jones wanted two of his Hoosier contacts on his team: Cheryl Orr, who was associate commissioner of higher education under Jones, and Tom Sugar, who was chief of staff for Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana.
The organization’s staff could grow to as many as 12 in the next two years, Jones said.
College Complete America got rolling in spring 2009 when Jones pitched the idea to the Gates and Lumina foundations. They liked it, with Gates shelling out nearly $950,000 last summer and Lumina kicking in $1 million last fall.
Officials of both foundations, including Lumia CEO Jamie Merisotis, will join Jones on the conference call.
The two foundations also brought on other heavy hitters of philanthropy: the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Ford Foundation, both based in New York, and the Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
College Complete America has already been active. In the fall, Jones and his team conducted a review of college completion in Tennessee for Gov. Phil Bredesen.
The report recommended that each state-funded university set specific degree goals, that their funding be linked to their success on such metrics, that the state operate all its community colleges as a system with clear links to four-year schools, and that the state handle all remedial instruction at the community college level.
Those recommendations were largely passed earlier this year by the Tennessee legislature. Bredesen will also be on the conference call.
Jones wants each state that agrees to participate with College Complete America to agree to similar goals and strategies.