Expanding SUCCESS


Succeeding in college remains a critical route to economic mobility. However, graduation rates at community colleges and broad access four-year institutions have remained low for decades, especially for students from families with low incomes and for students of color.

Expanding SUCCESS is an ambitious effort to narrow and ultimately eliminate inequities in college completion and economic mobility rates for students of color and students from low-income families. Over three years, MDRC is collaborating with state systems and community college districts with high proportions of students from economically disadvantaged and historically marginalized backgrounds to expand MDRC’s Scaling Up College Completion Efforts for Student Success (SUCCESS), a comprehensive student supports program. MDRC, states, and districts will work together to implement and sustainably scale SUCCESS across their campuses. The SUCCESS model is flexible, and MDRC will work with program partners to achieve project goals in the context of state laws regarding equity and inclusion in higher education programs.

Expanding SUCCESS is funded by The Studio @ Blue Meridian, which supports social sector organizations to accelerate their readiness to significantly scale their reach, impact, and influence.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

Students of color and students from families with low incomes face considerable barriers to college completion, including the costs of college, work and family obligations, and poorly designed institutional policies and practices, among others. Additionally, community colleges themselves receive much less per-student funding than four-year colleges and universities—where there are fewer students of color. Over the last 15 years, however, MDRC and others have established a rigorous body of evidence showing that multifaceted community college programs can produce dramatic improvements in students’ outcomes.

Expanding SUCCESS is an ambitious effort to dramatically accelerate the expansion of such programs. It builds on MDRC’s Scaling Up College Completion Efforts for Student Success (SUCCESS). SUCCESS started in 2019 and partners with 13 colleges in five states—California, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Ohio—and their state higher education agencies to develop and implement financially sustainable student support programs. SUCCESS combines multiple, evidence-based interventions into a cohesive, student-centered support strategy.

Components of SUCCESS programs include:

  • frequent proactive advising;
  • financial incentives tied to service usage;
  • strategies focused on increasing academic momentum (like requiring full-time enrollment or encouraging summer/winter enrollment); and
  • the use of real-time data to support student progress.

In Expanding SUCCESS, MDRC will provide technical assistance to higher education state systems, multi-campus colleges, or districts to support scaling the SUCCESS program across their campuses. 

Technical assistance will focus on helping states and districts train staff, and identify sustainable funding sources, so that they can help their colleges launch and implement SUCCESS programs with fidelity and build the foundation to sustain them over time.

MDRC technical assistance will include one-on-one support, training, and access to a management information system (MIS) for tracking and analyzing students’ program engagement and academic outcomes.

By the end of this project phase, MDRC envisions that:

  1. State and district teams will demonstrate the ability to train and support colleges to effectively operate SUCCESS.
  2. More students will be served by SUCCESS in a shorter timeframe through expansion to more colleges.
  3. Colleges implementing SUCCESS can reach a high proportion of students with low incomes and students of color.
  4. Demand for SUCCESS will exist from colleges in these states and districts and from other priority states and districts.