Global Leaders Exchange Ideas for Improving Degree Attainment, Equity
February 14, 2018

ACE invited higher education, policy, and business leaders from eight countries including the United States to meet in Washington, DC, earlier this month to share lessons, policies, and promising practices to improve postsecondary outcomes for underserved students. The meeting is part of a two-year initiative coordinated by ACE’s Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement (CIGE) with support from Lumina Foundation.

As participation in tertiary education has expanded throughout much of the world in recent decades, the challenge of supporting increasingly diverse student populations, and seeing them through to the completion of a degree, is one faced by all of the national or regional systems involved in the initiative: Australia, Canada, Colombia, the European Union, Germany, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

Participants largely agreed that access to financial support, academic readiness, and lack of socio-emotional support are the chief barriers for students in their countries. While challenges were shared, they were unable to identify examples of coordination or exchange of best practices across national systems, with the exception of Europe’s Bologna process

In opening remarks, ACE president and leader of the U.S. delegation Ted Mitchell described ACE’s longstanding efforts—tracing back to its founding 100 years ago—to improve outcomes for underserved students through research, policy, and the dissemination of good practice. For example, ACE​ CREDIT makes higher education credit equivalency recommendations for military and corporate training programs; a recent report by ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy outlines key challenges for adult students and recommends ways that higher education can better align with their needs; and an array of ACE Leadership programs strengthen the institutional leadership pipeline for women and people of color.

Courtney Brown, vice president of strategic impact at Lumina Foundation, outlined the foundation’s “Goal 2025” to increase the number of Americans with postsecondary credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025, with a particular focus on reducing equity gaps for African American, Latino, and American Indian students.

The Foundation has identified a number of strategies for achieving that goal, including competency based learning, improving the transparency of postsecondary credentials, and a focus on adults with no postsecondary credential. With many countries achieving attainment rates higher than the United States and others experimenting with policies and practices that would move their postsecondary systems toward such a goal, Brown asked, “What can we learn from you and from each other?”


Higher education, policy, and business leaders from eight countries including the United States met in Washington, DC, on Feb. 2-4, 2018. ACE organized the convening, part of a two-year initiative, with support from Lumina Foundation.

Each three-person delegation consisted of a higher education institution leader, an association head or policy expert, and a representative of the business or industry sector. In addition to Ted Mitchell, U.S. delegation members included Paul J. LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, and Beverly Tarulli, vice president for human capital strategy and workforce analytics at PepsiCo.    

Representatives of each delegation outlined key challenges and opportunities for supporting underserved students, identified in various ways across the different country contexts as low-income, adult, racial or ethnic minority, persons with disabilities, or those who live in remote rural areas. 

Many participants described a recent shift in the emphasis of their country’s higher education priorities from access to completion and long-term outcomes for students, including employment and lifelong learning. Representatives of several countries described a rigid national policy framework for higher education that inhibits experimentation with approaches such as flexible degree pathways. Many raised questions related to future skills needed in the workforce and the respective roles for universities, vocational and technical institutions, and employers to help workers upskill and reskill to meet changing labor market demands. 

Despite widespread challenges of adapting postsecondary education to better serve today’s students, there was general agreement that it remains the most powerful engine of social mobility worldwide. 

At ACE2018, ACE’s 100th Annual Meeting, March 10-13 in Washington, DC, participants of the global convening from Canada, Colombia, and the United States will discuss early outcomes of the ACE-Lumina initiative during a panel session moderated by Fernando León García, president of CETYS University System (Mexico) and chair of ACE’s Commission on Internationalization and Global Engagement, titled “Student Success, Attainment, and Equity: International Lessons.” 

In the coming months, ACE will work with members of the delegations and a group of expert advisors to develop working papers based on cross-cutting issues and a set of case studies exploring specific policies and programs in participating countries. A second global convening is tentatively planned for early 2019 in Mexico, in cooperation with Santander Universidades/Universia. 

For more information, contact Heather H. Ward, associate director, CIGE, at or 202-939-9320.