UMSL part of group receiving grant from Lumina Foundation to make St. Louis a ‘Talent Hub’

Alan Byrd, dean of enrollment

Alan Byrd, UMSL’s vice provost for enrollment management and co-chair of St. Louis Graduates, is helping lead efforts to eliminate degree completion gaps for low-income and African American traditional-age students in the St. Louis region with its new designation as a “Talent Hub” by the Lumina Foundation. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The University of Missouri–St. Louis is joining in efforts to eliminate degree completion gaps for low-income and African American traditional-age students attending four-year institutions in the St. Louis region through a $275,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation, which has designated St. Louis a “Talent Hub.”

St. Louis was one of seven communities across the country to receive that designation from the Lumina Foundation, in partnership with the Kresge Foundation. They join 17 others that were selected in 2017 after meeting rigorous standards for creating environments that attract, retain and cultivate talent, particularly among today’s students, many of whom are people of color, the first in their families to go to college and from low-income households.

Each Talent Hub is focused on raising the nation’s overall post-high school attainment level to 60 percent of working-age adults by 2025 while eliminating deep disparities in educational outcomes among African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians, who fare poorly in contrast with white and Asian students.

The St. Louis Talent Hub is a collaboration led by St. Louis Graduates, a network of K-12 and higher education, youth-serving nonprofit organizations, businesses and philanthropies dedicated to transforming lives through postsecondary education equity. Maryville University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of Central Missouri and Webster University are joining with UMSL in the efforts.

“St. Louis Graduates is proud to partner with our colleagues in the St. Louis Talent Hub to reduce barriers to degree completion for underserved students in our region,” said Alan Byrd, UMSL’s vice provost for enrollment management and co-chair of St. Louis Graduates. “Earning a college degree provides the surest path to economic and social mobility in our society, so we need to ensure that all students are being prepared for postsecondary opportunities regardless of their race or household income.

“Receiving the Talent Hub designation is validation that this work matters, and it is vital to the future of our region. St. Louis is not likely to reach the 60 percent goal for degree attainment without eliminating educational disparities for low-income students and students of color.”

The Talent Hub work builds on the research in “Degrees with Less Debt: Effective Higher Education Strategies for Underrepresented Student Populations,” a report commissioned by St. Louis Graduates in 2016. It includes efforts to build out effective campus-based institutional student supports among five higher education partners and to foster replication of effective practice through a new learning institute engaging postsecondary professionals across Missouri.

The St. Louis Talent Hub partners are implementing a collaborative workplan to increase degree completion for low-income students and African American students. One example is UMSL’s Finish Your Degree Scholarship, which removes financial holds for seniors with outstanding balances of $1,000 or less through targeted outreach to eligible students. This scholarship program has assisted 187 students with completing their degrees over the last five years. Recipients have a 94 percent graduation rate. UMSL plans to increase the graduation rate to 98 percent by 2020.

“We are proud to be a partner with St. Louis Graduates and other higher education institutions in the St. Louis Talent Hub,” UMSL Chancellor Tom George said. “Providing students of every background with an opportunity to receive a high-quality education to better themselves has been a core part of UMSL’s mission since its founding, and we’re constantly striving to eliminate the barriers that prevent students from doing so. The objectives of the Talent Hub fit neatly with that goal. The diverse group of students aided by these initiatives who complete their degrees will not only improve their own futures but will go on to strengthen the entire St. Louis region.”

In addition, St. Louis Graduates and institutional partners have launched the Student Success Learning Institute to foster replication of effective student support strategies identified in the “Degrees with Less Debt” research. The first Institute, held in February at UCM, focused on more effectively using data to provide student supports before they are at risk of stopping out. Over the next three years, the Institute will include workshops for administrators and frontline staff around proactive advising, emergency grants and flexible financial aid, just-in-time academic supports, and other evidence-based strategies aimed at increasing completion.

The Talent Hub strategies align with and complement St. Louis Graduates’ ongoing initiatives aimed at postsecondary access and affordability. These include Scholarship Central, an online system connecting students to more than 100 private scholarship and interest-free loan programs; the Professional Development Institute, which builds the professional capacity of middle school, high school, higher education and community nonprofit organizations to support students in finding a postsecondary program that is an academic, social and financial fit; and higher education policy advocacy in partnership with students through the Active Advocacy Coalition.

About Talent Hubs

The seven new communities designated as Talent Hubs are: Corpus Christi, Texas; Detroit; Elkhart County, Indiana; Las Vegas; Mobile, Alabama; Rio Grande Valley, Texas; and St. Louis.

They join 17 other Talent Hubs: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Austin, Texas; Boston; Cincinnati; Columbus, Indiana; Dayton, Ohio; Denver; Fresno, California; Los Angeles; Louisville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; New York; Philadelphia; Racine, Wisconsin; Richmond, Virginia; Shasta County, California; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

To date, Talent Hub investments by Lumina and Kresge total just over $10 million.

“We have added to the growing roster of top-flight cities committed to meeting the demands for an educated workforce,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “The Talent Hub designation serves both as an aspirational target for other cities and a foundation from which cities designated as Talent Hubs can build.”

Each community designated as a Talent Hub receives $275,000 in grant funding over 31 months. Grant funding will support local efforts to educate more people, allowing community and education leaders to better meet the specific needs of residents. Lumina will provide these funds in partnership with Kresge.

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