Collaboration as Key to Success for Low Income Students

This blog post is also available on Completion Matters

In financially tough times, is innovation in education possible? A May 10-12 meeting of the Communities Learning in Partnership (CLIP) initiative brought together representatives from 11 cities to discuss ways to make that vision a reality, specifically around its efforts to support the success of low-income students. The key? Collaboration. Find out more about what participants learned and shared at this important gathering.

With a budget crisis significant enough to last into the next century, innovation in education can feel like a far-off dream. Yet, at a May 10-12 meeting of the 11 cities associated with the Communities Learning in Partnership (CLIP) initiative, I got a sense that the collaboration being conducted around the country by various community college and K-12 educators—together with their city leaders—was key to making a vision for change real.

Organized by project intermediary the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families, the CLIP convening highlighted work being done at four principle sites: San Francisco, CA; New York City; Mesa, AZ; and Riverside, CA – all recipients of the CLIP multi-year implementation grant of $3 million per site (supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). There are seven affiliated cities, including: Jacksonville, FL, Phoenix, AZ, Dayton, OH, Portland, OR, Louisville, KY, Boston, MA, and Philadelphia, PA.

So how is collaboration contributing to change? Case in point: At the CLIP Cross-Site Meeting, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Superintendent Carlos Garcia, and City College of San Francisco (CCSF) Chancellor Don Griffin were on hand to present personal perspectives on a culture change for education. Their specific focus? Supporting success for low-income students of color. Credibility for this culture change comes from the highest levels of city leadership, through the willingness to “play together” to directly impact students’ lives. This top-down message, to attend and stay in college, is being realized through programs and policy changes to help students navigate the often-unfriendly hurdles of the education system, as well as any challenges they may face in real life, outside of school.

I had the opportunity to attend the CLIP convening on behalf of ISKME, as part of ISKME led an Action Collab session focused on supporting increased collaboration within, across and beyond the CLIP sites. The overarching goal was to engage more partners in collaborative work.

“CLIP operates under the belief that community stakeholders working in a coordinated fashion can increase postsecondary completion rates more successfully than colleges, school districts, community leaders, employers, and other stakeholders implementing promising practices in isolation.”

–CLIP Theory of Change, National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families



• Hear Audrey Hutchinson, Program Director, Education and Afterschool Initiatives, at National League of Cities, Institute for Youth, Education and Families, discuss the Communities Learning in Partnership (CLIP) initiative.

• See Action Collab’s Design Challenge: "How might we fully engage business stakeholders to address community college student completion and employability?"

Over the course of the CLIP convening, representatives from the 11 cities shared what they’re learning and hearing from researchers, other experts in the field and students who are now getting the support they need to stay in school. Not limited to “peaches and cream” success stories, as Andrew Moore of National League of Cities termed it, attendees were urged to share “where pushback is happening” – specifically, what challenges they face while trying to implement this culture change.

No stranger to radical pushback, CCSF Chancellor Don Griffin related how, more than 40 years ago, he participated in a faculty and students protest regarding inequities at CCSF, and was even arrested in the process. These days, he and other San Francisco collaborators are applying that fighting spirit toward making City College a “real college” destination. CCSF is taking a risk this year to change enrollment policy: giving enrollment priority to incoming freshmen (who are most often locked out of first-choice classes). Administrators are moving forward with the change as a way to make a difference in student persistence, retention, and completion.

Are you working to grow and spread a culture that supports success in higher education? Post your story on

What is your city, campus, district, or state doing to address postsecondary student success? What are the issues you’re facing? What collaborations might help you get there? Do you have videos that can help tell your stories? Post your comments and resources to, or send me an email at:

Amee Godwin, Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME,

Goals by the Numbers in CLIP’s Four Implementation Cities

SF Bridge to Success
Increase in the citywide college completion rate (for those who reach at least ninth grade) to 20% (1100 more students) in the next 10 years

Graduate! NYC

Increase the associate degree completion rate from 10% (1,668 students) to 25% (6,847 students) by 2020, and increase the six-year graduation rate for baccalaureate students to 61%

Mesa Counts on College

Double the college completion rates of low-income young adults in Mesa from a baseline of 8% (2,234 students) by 2020

Completion Counts - A Riverside Learning Partnership
Increase the associate degree completion rates from 14% (98 students) to 20% (211 students) by 2013 and 46% by 2020