A vibrant future for California’s economy and communities requires more bachelor’s degrees. Yet only a fraction of the students capable of earning a degree actually do. The lost potential carries high human, civic, and economic costs for our state.

College Futures Foundation believes that every student in California should have the opportunity to succeed in college. Our goal is to increase the rate of bachelor’s degree completion among students who are low-income and have historically low rates of college success. We provide leadership, award grants, and partner with those working to open doors and remove barriers to college completion.

Our Focus

We pursue our goal through a strategy that has three interrelated elements:

Successful Transitions: Institutions ensure student readiness and effective transitions along the degree completion pathway, with special focus on transitions from high school to college, and from community college to four-year colleges and universities.

For this strategy element, we emphasize what students need, with particular interest in ways they are informed and enabled to make decisions that affect college going, enrollment, persistence, and success.

Regional Partnerships: School districts, colleges, businesses, civic leaders, and other stakeholders create alliances and organizational structures to align leaders, resources, and decision-making—focusing on bachelor’s degree completion as part of a broader regional agenda.

For this strategy element, we identify successful intersegmental approaches emerging at the local level, and help to strengthen regional structures that address longstanding obstacles to successful student transitions from K-12 through to a bachelor’s degree.

Improved Policy and Practice: Policymakers and practitioners support and drive better student outcomes by addressing gaps between policies and implementation at the local, regional, and state levels.

For this strategy element, we support changes in state, educational, and institutional systems, as well as policies and practices that influence higher education structures, budgeting, finance, and governance to minimize or eliminate barriers to student success.

Visual overview of our strategy


Our strategic approach is student-centered and informed by student perspectives. This means that we gather, disaggregate, and analyze data to understand differences in student experiences and outcomes. We also focus on the perspective of students as they navigate the complex landscape to and through college. Through these means, we identify barriers and gaps between institutions, systems, and supports that can be addressed to better serve underrepresented students.

Cross-Cutting Principles

Our strategy is grounded in several cross-cutting principles:

Sustain attention on students. We focus on the perspective of students as they navigate the complex landscape to and through college. We gather, disaggregate, and analyze data to understand differences in student experiences including success rates of low-income and underrepresented students in higher education. In these ways, we identify barriers and gaps between institutions, systems, and supports that can be addressed to better serve underrepresented students. Through our grantmaking, we encourage and support institutions and other partners to address, track, and improve this situation.

Emphasize regional approaches. We respond to California’s size and diversity with strategies tailored to fit real economic, cultural, and institutional differences within its regions. Our investments focus on the San Joaquin Valley, Inland Southern California, and Los Angeles County. In these regions, the youth population is high, a majority of students live in poverty, and educational attainment is low. Also important, the demographic makeup in these regions mirrors projections for the state of California by 2020. We believe that our work here is most likely to yield meaningful results—for the regions themselves and the state as a whole.

Build capacity to empower leadership. We seek to help local leaders access and use regional and intersegmental data to set goals, pinpoint issues, identify interventions, and adopt new policies, practices, and procedures that help students succeed. We are not prescriptive in the specific changes that we expect institutions and other partners to achieve. Instead, we support discovery, experimentation, and innovation to empower leaders with the language, skills, and tools to address barriers and drive change.

Support multisector leadership. We recognize that creative and effective support for students must come from leaders in education, business, community, and all areas of life who are committed to improving college attainment for low-income students in their communities.

Use data effectively. We believe that solutions to the challenges facing students must be grounded in local data and relevant to their communities and cultures. We promote the use of data that fosters innovation, inquiry, and local solutions to overcoming barriers to college transition and degree completion. We work with our grantees and their partners to set clear goals for student success and degree attainment, and to develop processes for monitoring progress that include embedded feedback and learning loops.

Integrate academic and fiscal policies to support student success. As we work with partner organizations, we are attentive to how state and institutional fiscal policies can work against the goal of increased student success, and we seek ways to address these issues through budget practices within individual institutions or at the state policy level.

Current Initiatives

Our grants and activities in support of this strategy take shape in the following initiatives:

Community Philanthropy for Student Success: Partnering with community foundations to create long-term, sustainable funding for need-based scholarships to help more young people succeed. (For more information, see the webpage for this initiative.)

Higher Education Innovation Initiative: Providing a platform for postsecondary institutions awarded state innovation dollars to further strengthen and scale their productive new approaches to student success. (For more information, see the webpage for this initiative.)

Pipeline to Degree: Partnering with K-12 and postsecondary institutions to enhance student expectations, preparation, and interventions so that more young people get to and through four-year college and earn bachelor’s degrees.

Applying for Grants

To learn more about the Foundation’s grantmaking, visit our Grant Seekers page.