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Nationally, the imperative for college access and success is central to maintaining the strength of our democracy and our economic health. It is also essential for responding to growing inequality and creating meaningful opportunities for students from all communities. To engage effectively, institutions of higher education need to consider how their teaching, research, and service missions align with this national challenge. While attention to public purpose is built into most college and university mission statements, a growing number are choosing to focus institutional engagement activities on access to higher education as a key element of their public value.

This web guide is for colleges and universities, their administrators, faculty, students, and communities. The goals of guide are to help campuses (1) increase the number and diversity of students entering colleges and universities and (2) increase the success of entering students, particularly first-generation students and those from historically underserved communities. Inspired by former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign and Campus Compact’s tradition of engaging college presidents, faculty, students and communities, this guide is designed to bring dozens of resources, exemplary program models, and innovative practices into a single source that our members and their partners can apply to local contexts to create alignment around the common goal of making college happen.

Building on the conversations among college presidents at the President’s Leadership Summit and 2010 research brief, A Promising Connection: Increasing College Access and Success through Civic Engagement, Campus Compact is offering a practical guide to implementing its recommendations from the brief, presenting new and innovative approaches that have emerged since its publication, and offering resources for campuses and their communities to increase access and success through engagement strategies.

Guide to Integrating Access and Engagement in the Institutional Mission

The mission guides the purposes of the institution. Incorporating a commitment to access and success within an institution’s mission statement is a deliberative process involving campus stakeholders, governing boards, communities, businesses, and the public. This section includes examples of process questions to consider and examples from institutions laying the foundation for commitment to access through their mission statements.

Across institutional types, those institutions with a deliberate and explicit commitment to the success of all students graduate low-income students and students of color at much higher rates then their peer institutions. National studies identify administrative leadership as important for communicating commitment and for developing a results-oriented institutional culture in which academic and student affairs collaborate to provide programs and services that engage students, build a strong sense of community, and track internal data to inform ongoing improvement (Engle and O’Brien, 200; American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2007; Carey, 2005). Incorporating the values of access and engagement in the institutional mission and vision signals its priority for the campus and enables campuses to develop “an architecture of inclusion” (Sturm, Eatman, Saltmarsh, & Bush, 2011).

Examples of key questions to consider for institutions seeking to incorporate access to higher education as part of the core mission might include:

  • How does the campus value engagement and access?
  • What role does the campus serve in the local community and with other educational institutions (such as the local K-12 systems?)
  • How will the campus ensure that future generations of students will be prepared to succeed in college?
  • What are the institution’ existing access, success, and engagement efforts? Are these initiatives at the core of the teaching or research programs of the campus or at the periphery?


Building Commitment Through all Academic and Co-Curricular Levels

Colleges and universities that make authentic commitments to engagement and access align their academic and student affairs programs with the college access imperative. Through individual courses, majors and minors, and leadership programs, access is integrated into the student experience. Connections to the local community, schools, youth, and organizations enhance the curriculum through civic learning and engagement.

This set of resources provides guidance from existing programs as well as academic courses that integrate intentional experiences of engagement with youth for the purpose of Making College Happen.


Service-learning incorporates community work into the curriculum, giving students real-world learning experiences that enhance their academic learning while providing a tangible benefit for the community. Faculty members may conceptualize their courses’ community work to meet the aim of promoting college access. As discussed in A Promising Connectionservice-learning has been shown to support current college students’ personal and academic development. Furthermore, the partnerships through which service-learning courses are grounded provide fertile ground for mentoring activities that lend themselves to college access initiatives.

a. Guide to designing high-quality service-learning courses
Campus Compact has numerous resources in both print and online available to aid you in designing a service-learning course. Here are some factors to consider in the context of service-learning focused on college access:

  • Determine where your service-learning experiences take place. Examples of high-quality service-learning focused on access bring school students into college classrooms, college students into school classrooms, and engage college students and youth in out-of-school time programs. See below for specific course examples.
  • Engaging youth in service-learning projects with college students is another potential format for the community experience. When working with youth on service-learning projects, a set of standards of practice in K-12 service-learning might be established and kept in mind when creating your syllabus.
  • College students need to be prepared for their work with youth. Service-learning centers and their community partners often offer support in training and orienting students for their experience. Determine whether you will build these preparatory experiences into your class time, will expect students to complete these requirements outside class time, or a combination. Adjust your expectations for students as you design your syllabus to to achieve a balance between norms at your institution and the reality that student learning is enhanced when students rise to a challenge. Use resources developed for College Positive Volunteers in preparing your students.

b. Exemplary Programs

Campus Compact Syllabi Archive includes myriad resources that can aid in creating syllabi for classes in all subjects with a special focus on civic engagement, community service, experiential learning, and incorporates reflection.

c. Further Reading
Barbara Jacoby (2014). Service-Learning Essentials: Questions, Answers, and Lessons Learned. Jossey Bass. ISBN: 978-1-118-62794-5


College Positive Volunteerism provides training for college students (and their faculty and/or administrators) to volunteer with K-12 youth as a part of a course or service-learning program on their college campuses. College Positive Volunteers (CPVs) intentionally act as ambassadors of higher education when serving with youth, exposing them to college options and resources and materials to be successful in the college exploration and application process.

a. Guide to training College Positive Volunteers
The Campus Compact College Positive Volunteerism toolkit prepares volunteers working with various age groups (elementary youth, middle school youth, high school youth, parents, and adults returning to college). The toolkit includes the following elements:

  • Understanding All Students
  • Before Volunteering Checklist
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Using the Language of College Access
  • Knowing Talking Points about Your College
  • College Prep Checklists for each level
  • Activities for College Positive Volunteers and youth
  • Advice regarding paying for college

b. Links to Additional Resources

Building Commitment Through Outreach/ Engagement Centers

Many campuses have established offices of service-learning or civic engagement in the last 25 years. Separately, many campuses participate in college access programs of the federal government (through a TRiO program), a state program (such as Liberty Partnerships Program in New York) or locally on campus. This section of the guide encourages campuses to consider strong partnerships between the existing outreach and engagement of service-learning offices with the missions of pre-college and pipeline programs.

Often, these initiatives are separated in college and university campuses: TRiO and other college access programs might be located in enrollment management while service-learning initiatives are often housed in either student affairs or academic affairs. Determining what relationship these initiatives will have is a campus decision. This section of the guide provides recommendations for intentionally linking two complementary efforts.


As recommended in A Promising Connection:

  • Begin with the mission. Institutional missions, vision, and strategy should align the civic purpose of higher education with the access imperative.
  • Collect resources to inform approach and alignment. Campuses can begin conversations about the challenges of, resources need for, and relevant literatures of college access, success, and civic engagement.
  • Involve those impacted. The staff and students involved in (or beneficiaries of) college access programs can offer advice on how to better engage these programs as part of the existing service-learning or civic engagement programs on campus.
  • Collect information about the landscape of existing resources. Staff and faculty deeply involved in service-learning and civic engagement programs can identify within their existing network of partnerships organizations focused on college access.
  • Create shared goals for impact. Evaluate college access, success, and civic engagement initiatives by setting relevant and achievable goals for campus compact commitments to these parallel initiatives.


Making College Happen Through Financial Aid Incentive Programs

A well-designed financial aid incentive program couples a pre-college pipeline program targeting traditionally under-represented populations with an appropriate combination of scholarships, grants, and tuition discounts that covers 100% of tuition for students who meet admissions standards.


When considering a Financial Aid Incentive Program, consider the following:

  • What will the focus be? Potential focus for your incentive program may include:
    • The local neighborhood/host city
    • Underserved regions in the state
    • Underserved populations
  • Who will your partners be?
    • Local public schools
    • All local schools, public and private
    • Community organizations serving youth
  • What will the incentive look like based on your enrollment management goals?
  • What existing resources on your campus can you pull together to invest in the program?
  • How will you leverage existing resourrces to support underrepresented populations once they are admitted to your campus?


Neighborhood Academic Initiative – USC  : A rigorous, seven-year pre-college enrichment program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students for admission to a college or university. Those who complete the program, meet USC’s competitive admission requirements, and choose to attend USC are rewarded with a full 4.5-year financial package, minus loans. The program was established in 1989 and enrolled its first scholars in the 1991-92 academic year. Pulling together private as well as corporate resources, the NAI encompasses three major components: the USC Pre-College Enrichment Academy, the Family Development Institute and the Retention Program. 

Rutgers Future Scholars Program – Rutgers University:  Each year, the Rutgers Future Scholars program introduces 200 first-generation, low-income and academically promising middle school students from school districts in the four Rutgers home communities of New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark, and Camden to the promise and opportunities of a college education. The program has multiple-year components, each building on the foundation of the previous year. Beginning in summer preceding their 8th grade year, student participants become part of a unique pre-college culture of university programming, events, support, and mentoring that will continue through their high school years, and eventually college. For students who successfully complete the pre-college part of the program, Rutgers will provide full tuition funding through scholarships and federal grants to students admissible to Rutgers University. 

Young Scholars Program – Ohio State University  : The Ohio State University Office of Diversity and Inclusion Young Scholars Program improves pre-college preparation, retention, and degree completion among high-ability academically gifted first-generation students with financial need from nine of the largest urban school districts in Ohio: Akron Public, Canton City, Cincinnati Public, Cleveland Metropolitan, Columbus City, Dayton Public, Lorain City, Toledo Public, and Youngstown City. The Young Scholars Program has supported more than 3,000 pre-collegiate (grades 8th through 12th) and collegiate (college undergraduates) scholars, providing them with comprehensive academic, career, and personal development programs in partnership with school district administrators and staff; Ohio State faculty, staff, students, and alumni; and community and corporate partners.

Innovations that are Making College Happen

Groups like the Council on Opportunity in Education, the National College Attainment Network, and others are creating multi-sector entities that are bringing business and industry, colleges and universities, and school districts together to leverage a collective impact strategy. Smaller foundations like Posse FoundationNew World Foundation, and NoVo Foundation are collaborating with larger funders like the Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation to test innovative approaches to access that are local, contextual and focused on community empowerment. Colleges and universities are using their continuing education programs to provide better training and preparation to high school counselors and college admissions teams to promote access to traditionally underrepresented areas.

In this section, learn about ways you can consider your campus’ unique strengths in creating innovation that will lead to increased access through community engagement.


Your campus can take a leadership role in bringing innovation to your host community, your region, or your state. Following principles of collective impact, your campus can serve as a convener of multiple sectors including the k-12 system, other higher education institutions, the healthcare sector, the business sector, and the philanthropic sector.

According to Hanleybrown, Kania, and Kramer (2012), the essential conditions of a collective impact program include:

Common Agenda – All participants have a shared vision for change including a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions

Shared Measurement – Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants ensures efforts remain aligned and participants hold each other accountable

Mutually Reinforcing Activities – Participant activities must be differentiated while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action

Continuous Communication – Consistent and open communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and create common motivation

Backbone Support – Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization(s) with staff and a specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies


The Strive Together Framework has been implemented in 49 communities since it was first applied in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the core of the Strive partnerships are four principles: Shared Community Vision, Evidence Based Decision Making, Collaborative Action, and Investment and Sustainability. These programs have proven results:

  • Boston Opportunity Agenda (Boston, Massachusetts) – Kindergarten Readiness, High School Graduation and College Completion
  • Commit! Partnership (Dallas County, Texas) – High School Graduation and Postsecondary Degree/ Certificate Completion
  • Road Map Project (Seattle, Washington) – Early-Grade Reading, Middle-Grade Math and College Enrollment
  • StrivePartnership (Cincinnati, Ohio, and Northern Kentucky) – Kindergarten Readiness, Fourth-Grade Reading, College Retention and more.

Civic Opportunities Initiative Network of New World Foundation leverages scholarship opportunities so that underrepresented youth gain leadership training and civic engagement in their own communities. Their model partners community groups, colleges, and others to provide meaningful leadership development through civic opportunities, empowering youth to be change-makers in their own communities. The funding comes in the form of scholarships that bring low-income students back to their home communities during summer breaks and leverage local partners to provide training and skill-building for community leadership.


Fay Hanleybrown, John Kania, & Mark Kramer (2012). Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Making Graduation Happen

Linking community engagement and college access is a recipe for college success; students that are given opportunities to connect to their home communities while pursuing higher education are completing their degrees on time.

The higher education reform movement known as “the completion agenda” seeks to significantly increase the number of students graduating from college. This is certainly an important goal. Yet as many higher education professionals have pointed out, the completion agenda’s singular focus on “time to degree” may emphasize efficiency to the detriment of high-quality learning (Humphreys 2012). Aware of these critiques, community colleges are seeking innovative ways to increase graduation rates while also improving the quality of student learning. Campus Compact’s Connect2Complete (C2C) program aims to reach this goal by creating new, community-oriented models that support student success.