The Lumina Foundation is often imagined to be exclusively focused on college access. In fact, it defines its mission more broadly: By 2025, it wants 60 percent of Americans to have "high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials."
Today, the percentage of people with two- or four-year postsecondary degrees is under 40 percent, so Lumina has its work cut out for it even if it does include skills-based certificates as credentials that count toward its ambitious goal.
(As an aside, it is hard to think of another funder that has a more clearly focused quantifiable goal than Lumina. There are pros and cons to this approach, but we'll leave those for another article.)
To achieve its mission, Lumina is scouring the landscape for Americans who are falling through the credentialing cracks. Just look at two big grants the foundation recently made:
One grant focuses on adult learners and a second targets Americans aged 16-24 who are neither entering the workforce nor pursuing higher education.
To better understand the practices supporting adult learning, Lumina has awarded a $350,000 grant to the Committee for Economic Development (CED). Based in the nation's capital, CED's postsecondary education project is an 18-month study that surveys employers about their practices, and their challenges and barriers, to promote postsecondary attainment and skills certification among their employees.
CED is gathering the data through interviews and focus groups in four metropolitan areas: New York City, Memphis, Miami, and Detroit.
The grant from Lumina will help CED identify best practices and policy decisions that foster employer investment in postsecondary education for employees. Practices that foster "lifelong learning" contribute to a better educated workforce and thus, a more productive economy. CED plans to report its findings in the winter of 2015.
Grants designed to support lifelong learning are not new in higher education funding. Lumina has supported adult learner initiatives, such as College Unbound. And Osher Foundation, for example, actively supports higher education among adults 50 and older, even calling its adult learning centers Lifelong Learning Institutes.
Lumina's second grant focuses on a group the funder calls "Opportunity Youth." These estimated 6.7 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 have neither entered college nor the workforce. Lumina recently awarded $850,000 to the Aspen Institute for its Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund program.
Through this fund, Aspen awards funds to communities to connect these youth to education and employment. The awards from Aspen help bring together K-12 and higher education systems, nonprofits, employers, and state and local governments to engage "Opportunity Youth."
With these grants, Lumina continues to look for ways to increase educational attainment across various age groups and socioeconomic classes.
The year 2025 is just over a decade away, and Lumina is beating the bushes for Americans who can benefit from postsecondary credentials.