NCAN's Mission

Our mission is to build, strengthen, and empower communities committed to college access and success so that all students, especially those underrepresented in postsecondary education, can achieve their educational dreams.

We Can Achieve College Success for All Students

Drawing on the expertise of hundreds of organizational members in almost every U.S. state, NCAN is dedicated to improving the quality and quantity of support that underrepresented students receive to apply to, enter, and succeed in college. Only 12 percent of students from low-income families complete a four-year college degree by age 24, compared to 58 percent of students from high-income families. When nonprofit organizations and schools provide specialized early awareness information, pre-college advising on admissions and financial aid, and mentoring, college entrance and completion rates rise dramatically. NCAN members touch the lives of more than two million students and families each year and span a broad range of the education, nonprofit, government, and civic sectors.

NCAN provides member organizations with professional development, networking, benchmarking, and news from the field so they can deliver college access and success services more effectively and to more students. Resources include conferences, webinars, and online tools such as guidebooks and manuals as well periodic regrants to implement new initiatives.

NCAN also advocates at the national level for policies to improve access and success for all students.

Learn more about NCAN and the college access and success movement by following us on Twitter at @collegeaccess.

NCAN's History

NCAN was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1995 by nine founding members that wanted to share best practices and spread college access and success services around the country. The founding members were:

  • 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 of Dade County (Miami, FL) (now College Assistance Program, Inc.)
  • 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)

NCAN held its first national conference in 1997, and in 2001 received a leadership gift from KnowledgeWorks Foundation to hire its first professional staff, based in Cleveland. In 2007, NCAN relocated to Washington, D.C., to raise its national profile and add policy change to its strategies.

Why College Access and Success?

In today’s economy, a postsecondary credential is in greater demand than ever before. By 2020, 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, but only only 39 percent of U.S. working-age adults hold a postsecondary credential as of 2012. Postsecondary education is also increasingly the only route to upward mobility. The lowest income Americans who obtain a college degree are five times more likely than their peers to escape poverty. 

Unfortunately, issues such as rising tuition costs and confusion about complex college admission and financial aid processes keep many qualified students from entering college. Many of those who do enroll face additional challenges finding the support and resources they need to graduate. As a consequence, the four-year degree completion rate for low-income students has barely budged in the last 50 years (from 6 percent in 1965 to 12 percent in 2015). This trend in higher education outcomes is calcifying economic opportunity and mobility. 

The problem is large and growing. Each year, hundreds of thousands of academically prepared high school seniors miss the college transition, and many more "underenroll" in institutions where they are likely to drop out before graduation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 52 percent of 2011 high school graduates from low-income families enrolled in college immediately after high school, a figure 30 percentage points lower than their high-income peers. Nearly two-thirds of low-income students attendcommunity colleges and for-profit institutions, which often have low graduation rates.

Don't school counselors support students in the college application process? Sadly, there aren't enough of them, especially in low-income high schools. The average U.S. school counselor has a caseload of 471 students, often making it impossible for them to provide meaningful one-to-one help. In addition, surveys of school counselors routinely report that counselors do not receive adequate training about college admissions or financial aid. For students whose parents didn't attend college themselves, they have nowhere to turn to get sound advice and support. 

All students, regardless of income, age, race, or ethnicity, deserve an equal opportunity for a college education. Underrepresented students often must navigate the college pathway without adequate financial resources, guidance, or a strong college-going culture in their high schools. NCAN works to overcome these barriers so students can gain the postsecondary credentials they need to embark on successful careers and build America’s future. 

NCAN's Commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Since NCAN's formation, the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion have been the cornerstone of our work to increase postsecondary attainment. NCAN is committed to ensuring diversity in our membership, staff, board of directors, and partners. Furthermore, we advance equity by providing resources to our members to identify and support students in their communities who face the greatest challenges in completing higher education. NCAN also speaks out at the national level about policies that will benefit these students, who are overwhelmingly of color, low-income, or from immigrant families.

At NCAN's September 2012 national conference, the NCAN board and staff adopted the following resolution:

"NCAN will take action at the national level to increase equity for students in entering and completing postsecondary education. With ongoing support and input from our members and partners, we will strive for relevant, identifiable, change-oriented, and normative actions that embrace the values of equity and diversity and, more importantly, realize them in our day-to-day operations. The NCAN board and staff is pledged to aligning these core values with expectations of ourselves and to modeling these expectations for our members and partners as well."