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Why I’m driven to design accessible, accelerated + affordable pathways with more learners

By Dr. Jessica Lauritsen, Designers in Residence program lead at Education Design Lab

What if every student had the opportunity to earn an associate degree one year after they graduate from high school?

I’m thrilled to be facilitating a group of what I know will be thoughtful, action-oriented higher education leaders to dive deep into this question.

I have worked in higher education student affairs positions at two-year, four-year, public, and private higher education institutions over the past 20 years. I was called to student affairs work because of my own experience. I grew up in a small, rural city in Minnesota in a low-income family. Born to a teenage mom and raised in a trailer park, not much was expected of or available to me.

I knew I wanted to go to college, mostly because my friends were all going. But I was the first in my family to attend so the process was very lonely, confusing, and sometimes defeating. Somehow, despite all odds, I finished a bachelor’s degree, a master’s, and a doctorate.

When I finished undergrad, I worked for a nonprofit working to build a youth center with the youth voice at the center. During this experience, many families and young people were put off by the cost of college and the confusing processes to enroll. I knew I wanted to find a career to help young people access college. I felt (and still feel) deeply compelled to pay it forward and help people like me have the resources and support they need to earn a college degree.

After years of working to close equity gaps in college student retention across institutions, I can tell you what you probably already know — the work is hard. Predictable disparities (race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status) are not changing at the rate they should be. Dual enrollment programs are proven to create college access and have a positive impact on student success outcomes. However, not all students have access to these opportunities. And recent data shows our K-12 and postsecondary systems fail to support upwards of 60 percent of Black, Latino, and/or students from families with low incomes to enroll and persist into their second year of college.

Building accessible, accelerated, and affordable pathways for more learners to access a college degree pathway is not a small task. I also know that if it were easy, this would be done better already. But, equitable access to higher education is possible. Learners, educators, parents, and policymakers see the benefits of dual enrollment opportunities — let’s work together to make them more accessible to more young people. I’m honored to be working on the Designers in Residence 2.0: Accelerating Pathways project, where we will co-design with senior postsecondary leaders to build their capacity to align K-12, postsecondary, and workforce ecosystems to do just that.

The project will focus on the design question: How might we strengthen our leadership role to better drive regional ecosystem alignment for Black, Latino, and students from low-income backgrounds to earn an associate degree one year from high school graduation?

We are seeking equity-minded changemakers who want to join us on this journey.

To learn more about this opportunity, and to apply or nominate a higher ed leader, visit this link.

Applications are due by March 17, 2023, and we will kick off the cohort activities in Washington, D.C., in June.