Despite a growing momentum to bridge achievement gaps in higher education, the postsecondary education system still lacks equity for students of color, students from low-income households and returning adults. These students often begin in developmental education courses rather than college-level courses, delaying their ability to earn credits and progress to academic completion. And students who enroll directly into gateway math and English courses might not succeed without adequate support, or if these classes don't align with their academic and career pathways.

Over the past 20 years, millions of dollars have been invested in efforts to improve developmental education and develop guided pathways, yet lack of coordination in research, funding and implementation of these approaches is limiting the impact of strategies we know to be effective.


A group of national experts in higher education reform produced a set of common practices for improving success for students from historically underserved populations.

The Strong Start to Finish (SSTF) campaign is an effort to scale the evidence-based practices outlined in "Core Principles for Transforming Remediation within a Comprehensive Student Success Strategy," to help more students complete math and English requirements and enter a program of study in their first year of college. SSTF builds on 20 years of research and reform to deliver on the promise of higher education for all students, regardless of their academic preparation, income level, age or race.

The campaign was launched in 2017 with $13 million in pooled funds from Great Lakes, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Kresge Foundation. By engaging in the highest level of philanthropic collaboration, we are pursuing greater scale and impact than we might achieve alone. SSTF will be soliciting investments from national, regional and community funders to further bolster the initiative.

Education Commission of the States oversees SSTF. An Expert Advisory Board, chaired by Dr. Uri Treisman of The University of Texas at Austin, is guiding the campaign's research and knowledge development activities.

After assessing 47 letters of interest in mid-2017, SSTF invited nine states, higher education systems, regional consortia and metropolitan areas to apply for competitive grants. Members of the Expert Advisory Board, SSTF staff and philanthropic leaders reviewed the proposals, and in February 2018, four exemplary applicants were selected to receive three-year grants of $2.1 million each. Each site presents a unique context for learning how state systems can scale evidence-based practices to achieve greater equity in student success.

  • City University of New York (CUNY) will replace traditional remedial courses with corequisite courses, design and implement new courses aligned with degree maps, and expand Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) to serve more than 30,000 first-year students every year.

  • Ohio Department of Higher Education will deepen engagement among individual institutions and faculties. State leaders have committed to increase the number of first-time students completing college-level math and English in their first year to 50% by 2021.

  • State University of New York (SUNY) will transform developmental education into an "on-ramp" to guided pathways with multiple measures for placement, advising and integrated student supports. SUNY will also expand Carnegie Math Pathways and provide additional supports for student success in English.

  • University System of Georgia (USG) will expand the Momentum Year program systemwide. Students will be encouraged to attempt 30 degree-hours, including a minimum of three courses in their chosen academic focus area. Extra program support will follow a corequisite model.

In 2018, The Kresge Foundation awarded a grant to a nonprofit group serving Arkansas’ college system to join Strong Start to Finish as the network’s first Associate Member.

  • Arkansas Community Colleges (ACC) will implement developmental education reforms at 22 community colleges and 10 public universities to help more students successfully pass math and English in their first year.

SSTF welcomed the community colleges of California in 2019, significantly increasing the network’s footprint.

  • The California Community College Chancellor’s Office, with additional implementation support from the Foundation for California Community Colleges, will partner with technical assistance providers to support reforms at 114 public two-year institutions.

The grants are helping each system accelerate their progress while SSTF gains a better understanding of the institutional capacity, costs and policy supports needed to expand proven reforms. As practitioners work to implement reforms, SSTF is regularly producing resources to share collective lessons learned.