NCAN Marks 20 Year of Supporting Students' Full Potential

October 21, 2015

By Elizabeth Morgan, Director of External Relations

In 1995, NCAN was founded by nine organizations that adopted the spirit of the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  At our recent conference in Orlando, we honored these founders:

CollegeBound Foundation (Baltimore, MD)
Cleveland Scholarship Program (now College Now Greater Cleveland)
The Boston Plan for Excellence in The Public Schools Foundation (now uAspire)
College Assistance Program, Inc. (Miami, FL) 
I Know I Can (Columbus, OH)
Philadelphia Schools Collaborative (succeeded by Philadelphia Education Fund)
Scholarship Fund of Alexandria (VA)
Tidewater Scholarship Foundation (Norfolk, VA) (now Access College Foundation)
The Winston-Salem Foundation (now Crosby Scholars Program)

In 1995, each organization was working hard in its own city to help more students get a college education. Each had its own struggles to raise awareness about the disparities in college-going, build support, and raise funds. All experienced the challenge of serving the many students who needed them, coaching them through college applications, completing their FAFSAs, explaining their financial aid awards, and jumping countless more hurdles. Still, these organizations knew that they had to do more. By joining together at the national level, they believed they could to learn from one another, share their goals and strategies with other communities, and benefit many more students than any single one of them could ever do alone.  We wouldn’t be here today without the committed pioneers from these nine organizations. 

In 2015, NCAN is a proud leader in the vibrant national movement to help more students who have been historically underserved in education get a postsecondary credential. NCAN includes more than 350 organizational members from coast to coast reaching more than two million students and families annually. The issue of college completion is in the national spotlight: Policymakers, education leaders, philanthropists, corporate CEOS, and the President and First Lady of United States address inequitable college completion rates as both a moral and economic challenge that our country must fix. As a field of college access and success providers, 20 years of experience and research has taught us a lot about what it takes to get a low-income student to college and keep him or her there through graduation. We have also learned to take that experience with students and turn it into advocacy with policymakers for systemic change that benefits millions of individuals and families. 

During the last 20 years, countless individuals have helped NCAN grow and advance the postsecondary success of low-income and first-generation students and students of color. We salute those who have had committed their time through formal leadership roles. We also thank the many thousands who have attended conferences, delivered workshops, served on committees, visited their legislators, shared their program materials, paid their membership dues, tweeted important information, watched webinars, told their stories, mentored a colleague, written conference proposals, and read NCAN’s emails. Together, we will go even farther to achieve equity for our students.  

In other signs of progress, numerous colleges and universities are doing groundbreaking work both to enroll more underserved students and to change practices on campus to make these students more successful. K-12 schools commonly talk about building “college-going culture.” Communities are collaborating across sectors to set regional postsecondary attainment goals and find solutions to the inequities and bottlenecks in the college pipeline. Finally, many stakeholders have identified employability after college as an issue we must address so that students with degrees continue to enjoy high employment rates in satisfying careers.  

Although our movement has grown and matured, we still have a long way to go. Nationally, college enrollment rates have increased for underserved students, but college graduation rates have not risen significantly. Fortunately, NCAN member programs are leading the way to close gaps in college graduation. Our 2015 benchmarking report found that the six-year college graduation rate of students served by 42 NCAN members in the high school graduating class of 2008 (56.8%) was approaching the national benchmark of 59.3% for all students. These strong results demonstrate that low-income students can succeed in college at high rates when they receive the right support. We have proven strategies to share with school systems, nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions, foundations, and other groups concerned with raising college attainment.  
NCAN is not an organization of self-congratulatory people. When given the choice between receiving an award and helping a student with a college essay, most of us would choose the student. We like to put our heads down and get things done for young people, not talk about ourselves or throw parties. But in recognition of our 20th anniversary, we should take the time to celebrate what we’ve help our students accomplish and recommit ourselves to supporting them in ever more strategic and effective ways.

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