The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Jun 04, 2012

Five ideas for improving college completion rates win funding

Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller


Students from Broward College whose proposed project "My College Guide" was one of five to win funding

Five projects that will support South Florida’s community college students as they finish school will receive funding after winning a competition that engages young  people in providing solutions to educational challenges.

The award competition marked the culmination of’s three-day Target 2020 summit, which brought together close to 100 students to discuss the challenges they face in completing school, and helped them work collaboratively to propose solutions.

The summit focused on boosting community college completion rates and increasing civic engagement - Miami’s Millennials are the least civically engaged in the country, a new report finds. And according to Complete College America, only 12 out of every 100 Florida community college students will graduate with a post-secondary credential within four years, which is problematic since it's estimated that by 2020, 63 percent of jobs will require a certification or college degree.  

Knight Foundation supported the summit as a way to promote Millennial-led engagement in South Florida and four other communities.

Kicking off the summit award competition on Sunday morning, Knight’s Damian Thorman encouraged students to think about finding innovative ways to solve problems on issues they care most passionately about. Thorman said by doing so, students will become leaders with the ability to shape their communities’ futures. “Ultimately it’s people like you, in this room, who have the skills, the energy and the passion to solve the problems you’re facing. You’re going to be the ones to change this community,” Thorman, Knight’s national program director, said.

The winning projects listed below, which were voted on by the students using interactive keypads, will receive a share of $25,000 and a year of staff and other networking support. The project’s leaders will also participate in a year-long leadership program.

Projects were judged on four criteria: potential social impact, creativity and innovation, sustainability and the use of new and social media. The five below were selected from a group of 13.

  • High School Community Outreach: To address the problem of low graduation and completion rates of undocumented students, a program will target and educate teens from 9-12th grades on their educational options, such as scholarships and institutions that welcome students regardless of their legal status. By partnering with community groups already working on the issue, creating a website and distributing informative podcasts and YouTube videos, the project aims to encourage young students of all backgrounds  to become more civically involved in their communities. (Miami Dade College - InterAmerican campus)
  • My College Guide”: To increase the number of students who are active in student organizations and activities, a student-run editorial magazine will help increase knowledge of available activities.  It will provide information about organizations on campus, upcoming academic events, campus maps, student resources, scholarships and more. It will also provide community service and service learning opportunities. (Broward College - South campus)
  • Students’ Excellent Expansive College Experience: To provide individual and specialized assistance to struggling students, a new center will offer personal tutoring, advisement and other types of academic and moral support. (Miami Dade College - Hialeah, North and InterAmerican campuses)
  • Improving Graduation Rates with a Four-Course Success Sequence: To increase college completion rates, a series of four workshops will better prepare students for their futures. The workshops, available for 100 students, will adopt and modify Student Life Skills courses and focus on issues like study skills, transition preparation for four-year colleges, job placement courses and more.  If successful, the project aims to expand the workshops into a larger set of courses available for credit and to the entire student population. (Miami Dade College, InterAmerican campus)
  • Breaking Down the Barriers: To empower women to make informed decisions that positively affect their college completion efforts, a new program will provide a support network to students. By tackling barriers that women face with respect to college completion, like pregnancies and other unhealthy life choices, the program will help build confidence and self-esteem through support groups, panel discussions and interactive workshops. (Miami Dade College - Wolfson campus)

The Miami Herald covered the summit and one of the student proposed projects - the High School Community Outreach project described above - in an article “A project to help immigrant students looks for a boost.” WPBT2, a local Miami television station, also interviewed CEO Maya Enista Smith about the weekend summit and the organization’s strategy to engage millennials in making their communities stronger.

Knight Foundation’s Miami Program Director Matt Haggman addressed the students, focusing on the importance of millennials in developing solutions to college completion and civic engagement: "You are the innovators, the entrepreneurs and the developing leaders that are going to shape Miami," Haggman said. He also focused on one of the city’s unique assets, its diversity, noting that other communities can learn from Miami as they are also becoming more diverse. “The rest of the America is becoming more like us,” he said.

During the summit, Sen. Bob Graham and other local leaders released the Miami Millennial Civic Health Report, which found that the city’s millennials are among the least civically engaged in the country. A panel discussion focused on how to best boost civic engagement efforts, including putting more emphasis on early childhood education. The discussion was led by Sen. Graham and featured Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Dr. Lenore Rodicio, the executive director of the Miami Dade College Student Success and Completion Initiatives.

In addition to South Florida, Knight is supporting summits in Detroit, San Jose, Charlotte and Philadelphia. For the upcoming Charlotte gathering, civically active millennials from several states are invited to submit their ideas to increase civic engagement and post them online. The semi-finalists who receive the most votes will be invited to participate in the Millennial Civic Engagement Summit in Charlotte at the end of August, where they’ll work with their peers to further develop sustainable, community-based solutions.

Related: Millennial-led engagement helps students address educational challenges

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