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Complete College America selects state higher education agencies in Arkansas, Montana and Oklahoma as inaugural members of the Policy, Equity and Practice network

May 4, 2022

INDIANAPOLISComplete College America (CCA), a national non-profit organization working to raise postsecondary attainment in the United States, announced today that it has selected Arkansas, Montana, and Oklahoma as the first state partners for an ambitious new initiative aimed at raising the bar for college completion and equity in outcomes at the state level. With $1.75 million in support from Ascendium Education Group, the Policy, Equity & Practice (PEP) initiative will engage state higher education agencies from each state, who will convene a cohort of 34 participating colleges and universities to help historically underserved students to complete college.

“More than a decade after states moved to set audacious goals to increase postsecondary attainment, we are seeing that progress is possible. However, the pandemic has introduced a new set of barriers that could undermine that progress and reverse some of the same hard-fought gains,” said Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America. “To sustain inclusive and competitive economies at the state level, we must ensure that every citizen has the opportunity to achieve their full educational potential—and develop the knowledge and skills to succeed in today’s workforce.”

Nationally, about 90% of students from under-resourced families do not graduate within six years–let alone four. According to NASPA’s Center for First-generation Student Success, 56% of first-generation college students had not attained a postsecondary credential after six years. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, 6-year graduation rates for Black and Latino students stand at 51.5%, lower than graduation rates for White students. 

To help improve college completion rates for students from historically underserved backgrounds, each state will work with a cohort of institutions to implement targeted strategies proven to eliminate disparities among students from historically underserved communities. Arkansas, Montana, and Oklahoma have chosen to focus on Purpose First strategies that include First-Year Experience, Career Exploration, Academic & Career Alignment, and Adult Learner Engagement to help colleges and universities connect student interests with their academic and professional goals. 

Through the PEP initiative, each state will advance policy reforms designed to drive improvements in college completion that fit their local context and state higher education strategic plans: 

  • The Arkansas Department of Higher Education will work to help colleges, universities, and the state meet their 2030 goals outlined in their Master Plan;
  • The Montana University System will work to expand its successful Montana 10 program—which offers academic, social, and financial supports designed to help students succeed in college—while scaling the statewide adoption of corequisite support; 
  • And the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education will focus on strengthening the connection between higher education and the workforce, both for adult learners as well as high school students participating in dual enrollment courses.

“Education and training beyond high school is essential to compete in today’s economy. To meet Arkansas’ workforce and economic development goals, it’s critical that we increase the number and proportion of working-age adults with a postsecondary credential by 2025,” said Maria Markham, director of the Arkansas Division of Higher Education. “We are excited to join with other state leaders and institutions focused on ensuring that more students in our state graduate on time—and that students from every background can access the education and training they need to achieve their personal and professional goals.”

Initially launched in September 2021, the Policy, Equity & Practice initiative will convene leadership from state higher education agencies and teams of colleges and universities within their states. Complete College America will work collaboratively with members of the Policy, Equity & Practice cohort to identify and respond to the needs of students and institutions in each state through August 2024. 



About Complete College America: Complete College America (CCA) builds movements for scaled change and transforms institutions through data-driven policies, student-centered perspectives, and equity-driven practices. Since its founding in 2009, CCA connects a national network of forward-thinking state and higher education leaders and introduces bold initiatives to help states and institutions confront inequities, close institutional performance gaps, and increase college completion rates, especially for marginalized and historically excluded students. For more information, visit