Higher Education and Nonprofits

Grant gives boost to educating residents

Lumina Foundation likes mayor’s To College-Through College initiative.

June 13, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Grand Rapids was one of 35 U.S. cities to receive a $160,000 Lumina Foundation grant in early June that will be used to help more young residents of the community earn college degrees.

One other grant was awarded in Michigan: to the city of Detroit. The grants cover a 2.5-year period and are tied to the achievement of specific goals. The first round of Lumina grants was announced in December, with the only Michigan city included that time being Kalamazoo.

The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation selected Grand Rapids because of Mayor George Heartwell’s To College-Through College initiative. 

Facilitated by Our Community’s Children, To College-Through College has brought together multiple sectors of the community, including businesses, to work on ensuring that young local residents are prepared for college and a subsequent career.

Our Community’s Children is a public-private partnership of the city of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Both the mayor and superintendent of GRPS endorsed To College-Through College, which shapes public policy, partnerships and programs to improve the quality of life for children who live in the city. Guided by the Grand Rapids Youth Master Plan, OCC works to ensure that children are ready for college and a working career that allows them to support themselves.

Lynn Heemstra, executive director of Our Community’s Children, said the goal is to “increase the number of Grand Rapids Public School graduates who enroll in college and help them attain their college degrees.”

Currently, 50 percent of the city’s high school graduates enroll in college, yet in six years, only 18 percent receive a degree.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012 Grand Rapids had a population of 190,411; 83.5 percent had high school diplomas and 28.2 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Statewide, those respective percentages are 88.7 percent and 25.5 percent.

Lansing, with a population of 113,996, had 86.1 percent high school grads and 24.5 percent college grads. Kalamazoo, with 75,092 residents, had 89.1 percent high school grads and 31.8 percent college grads.

Lumina’s metro-strategy was designed to help communities and regions dramatically increase the number of local residents with postsecondary credentials. The collaborative effort connects participating cities with technical and planning assistance, key data, flexible funding and the ability to customize attainment plans that will best suit each community’s needs and the well-being of its residents.

“The more college-degreed persons we have in Grand Rapids, the greater our economic strength and talent pool,” said Heartwell. “Our goal is to be a city of education and innovation.”

Heemstra said the plan for the Lumina grant is to track the high school class of 2013, many of whom are already in college, as well as the newest high school graduates of 2014. They will be offered resources that help them remain in college, and information will be provided to the new college enrollees and prospective students about the potential future opportunities related to a college degree.

First generation college students and persons of color are being approached in particular, said Heemstra, because they are statistically much more likely to drop out of college in their third or fourth year.

“We are really wanting to close that gap” in college graduates who fit that demographic, said Heemstra.

The program is also designed to help build a pipeline from college to business employment to career.

“We have to strengthen that pipeline because a lot of young people don’t know it’s out there,” said Heemstra.

Grand Rapids — like all other U.S. cities — is measured by the percentage of its residents who have a bachelor of arts or higher degree.

“It’s the metrics by which businesses determine if they are going to locate in Grand Rapids or the Grand Rapids area, or not. We have to be tuned in to that,” she added. “More college degrees mean a better economy and greater innovation for the city.”

“Research shows a direct correlation between thriving cities and education beyond high school,” said Jamie Merisotis, Lumina’s president and CEO. “Increased attainment delivers stronger local economies, greater individual earning power and better quality of life. Every community in America wants that, and we’ve designed this work to give civic leaders the tools they need to be successful.”

Lumina’s grant strategy is connected with Goal 2025, a national initiative to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025.

Heemstra said To College-Through College is supported by Talent 2025 Grand Rapids, which involves more than 70 business leaders from across West Michigan. They came together in 2010, representing a wide variety of industries in 13 West Michigan counties. The goal of the CEO-led effort is to dramatically improve the quality and quantity of the region’s talent to meet increasingly more complex and diverse workforce needs.

Heemstra said two organizations directly involved with Our Community’s Children include Express Employment Professionals in Grand Rapids, and Spectrum Health.

The To College-Through College organization consists of businesses, Grand Rapids Public Schools, higher education, community-based organizations, foundations, municipal and county government, and Talent 2025. National partners include the National League of Cities, The Center for Educational Excellence, Excelencia in Education, and now the Lumina Foundation. 

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina’s outcomes-based approach focuses on helping to design and build an accessible, responsive and accountable higher education system while fostering a national sense of urgency for action to achieve Goal 2025.

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