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 through a two- or four-year degree or high-quality certificate program.

We Can Achieve Postsecondary 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 postsecondary education. Today, students of color, low-income students, and those who are the first in their families to attend college experience disproportionately lower rates of postsecondary success. For example, the odds of a high-income student enrolling in postsecondary education directly after high school are more than 3 times higher than those of a low-income student.

Fortunately, this inequitable outcome isn’t inevitable. When students receive specialized early awareness information, pre-college advising on admissions and financial aid, and mentoring, college entrance and completion rates rise dramatically.  Students served by NCAN members regularly outperform other low-income students in enrolling in and graduating from postsecondary education and in many cases close the graduation gap with higher-income students. NCAN  members  touch the lives of more than 2 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, tools, and news from the field so they can deliver college access and success services more effectively and to more students. NCAN also advocates at the national level for  policies to improve access and success for all students.

NCAN's Four Strategies

NCAN pursues four specific strategies, described below.  
Enhance the capacity of the college access and success field with high-quality data, innovative ideas, and accessible tools.  NCAN provides tools and resources to help member organizations adopt proven strategies for students and measure their results. For example, NCAN’s Benchmarking Project allows members to compare the progress of their students against one another as well as national rates for postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and completion. The Common Measures framework helps organizations focus on the most effective intervention points for students, such as support for taking standardized admissions tests, completing multiple college applications, and filing the FAFSA. The Form Your Future(R) FAFSA completion campaign includes high-quality social media messages and other free communications materials communities can use to raise awareness about financial aid as well as organize and train volunteers to assist with FAFSA completion. NCAN also explores cutting-edge developments, such as the connection between college and career success, and occasionally provides regrants to member organizations to pursue new initiatives.
Bolster the skills and competencies of college access and success leaders and practitioners through professional development.  To do their best work, organizations that provide college access and success services to students must be well-trained and well-informed. Through timely and targeted information and professional development, NCAN supports the growth and development of member organizations so they can serve more students more effectively and efficiently. This strategy involves a national conference, regional “spring training” events on hot topics, a blog and weekly e-newsletter, monthly webinars, online  training, and  learning communities.  Subjects include: financial aid, FAFSA completion, college admissions advising for low-income students, cultural competence, career exploration and advising, parent engagement, college admissions tests, finding a good college fit for first-generation college-goers, college retention strategies, technology to promote college access and success, and unique support needs of adult learners and youth experiencing foster care or homelessness.  
Advocate for improved college completion rates by amplifying a range of policy solutions and increasing member engagement.  Millions of first-generation and underrepresented students each year could benefit from improved federal and state policies related to financial aid and higher education. NCAN mobilizes the voices of its members and their students in the nation's capital to ensure that the perspectives of low-income individuals are represented in the higher education  policy  debate.  NCAN advocates for simplifying the federal financial aid system and increasing the availability of need-based aid. Recently, NCAN added state policy to its advocacy work and is supporting member organizations in identifying and pursuing a range of policy goals relevant to their state circumstances.   
Foster relationships within communities and across sectors that support college access and success for underrepresented students.  Increasing postsecondary completion rates throughout the education pipeline and across an entire community or region takes cooperation from many sectors. NCAN identifies opportunities to collaborate with K-12 schools, higher education institutions, the business community, philanthropists, and government agencies to increase support for college access and success services and strategies. NCAN also partners with entities that take statewide or local responsibility to coordinate the range of program activities and system changes that result in more college graduates.  NCAN’s membership includes dozens of state and local networks, such as College Success Arizona, College Access Consortium of New York, Florida College Access Network, Learn More Indiana, Michigan College Access Network, and Southern California College Access Network.   

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 47 percent of U.S. working-age adults hold a postsecondary credential as of 2016. 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 Student Clearinghouse, 52 percent of 2016 high school graduates from high-poverty high schools enrolled in college immediately after high school, a figure 25 percentage points lower than their peers from low-poverty high schools. Nearly two-thirds of low-income students attend community 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 482 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."