Throughout the Breakthrough network, a handful of Affiliates for some time now have provided student alumni with support to navigate college and the very real challenges that interfere with their academic progress. Last year, we began our journey to learn from these Affiliates and create a college success playbook for other Affiliates to adopt as they develop their own college programming.

The data is clear: Breakthrough students enroll, persist, and graduate from college at higher rates than their peers of similar economic and racial backgrounds.

  • College enrollment: 31% higher
  • College persistence: 19% higher
  • College graduation: 27% higher 

Of our nearly 10,000 Breakthrough students, nearly three-fourths (73%) are the first in their family to attend college. We want to do everything we can to support our students, equipping them with the knowledge, skills, and relationships to earn a degree, which will lead to increased opportunity and upward economic mobility. 


College Success Toolkit

In October, Breakthrough completed the first draft of our College Success Toolkit, which includes resources and guidance for Affiliates seeking to start offering or expand upon their existing college success programs. This toolkit was developed by our incredible College Success Pilot work group, made up of representatives from Breakthrough New York, Greater Boston, San Juan Capistrano, Central Texas, and the National Office.

Currently, the College Success Pilot project has entered its “Codification Phase,” during which pilot members will test components of the toolkit using “PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act)” cycles, and rapidly iterate upon it based on their learnings. The pilot group has expanded to include two new affiliates, Breakthrough Houston and Breakthrough San Francisco, who will support the testing of the toolkit.

Additionally, the broader Breakthrough community has been invited to offer feedback on the toolkit, which the pilot group is using to continuously improve upon the existing toolkit document. These cycles of testing and feedback will continue through May 2024, after which the pilot group will release a second version of the toolkit, containing adjustments based on feedback, as well as additional sections and resources.



Components of the Toolkit 

Our College Success Toolkit addresses the highest-impact elements of college success programming to increase student enrollment, persistence, and graduation. The following core elements are examined in each section of the toolkit.

Why College Success? Presents various national and Breakthrough-specific data points that speak to the need for college success programming. We know a significant disparity exists among those who are earning degrees nationwide, with only 15% of students in the lowest income quartile earning a bachelor’s degree by age 24, compared to students in the upper income quartile. Data is clear that college degree attainment brings real benefits, both monetary and non-monetary.

How do you get your board on board? In starting or expanding college success programming, one of the first steps is to create buy-in and obtain approval for this work. This toolkit section is dedicated to best-practices and strategies in engaging board members around college success to ensure that all resources are being effectively utilized to have the highest impact on students.

How do you staff your college success program? Staffing is a major component of a successful college success program. We leveraged data from our literature review, as well as learnings from pilot affiliates, to identify important elements of effective college success staffing strategies, and to outline a menu of staffing options that can meet the needs of our diverse affiliate sites. 

How do you fund your college success program? Funding is critical to sustainability of college success work, and is also one of the biggest concerns of affiliate colleagues when it comes to starting college success programs. The CS Pilot Group included resources and best-practices regarding funding college success work in the toolkit in an effort to support affiliates with this critical aspect of launching and sustaining a program.

How do you measure your outcomes? Measuring outcomes is necessary to evaluate program success, but navigating the various metrics and means of capturing data in the college success space can be daunting. The College Success Pilot group leveraged research-backed college success metrics, as well as their own experience tracking these metrics, to create a user-guide and tools to support affiliates in deciding what data to collect, collecting data, and measuring outcomes.

Why is advising essential? Individualized advising is a non-negotiable component of college success work. Students need regular access to intrusive advising from trusted advisors with expertise in serving college students. The College Success Toolkit compiles valuable advising resources from the pilot sites, from core advising principles, to training resources, and monthly advising checklists.

College Affordability and Financial Aid: One of the core components of college success work is financial aid. Our students are navigating a higher education system in which college costs have increased significantly, and one where need-based financial aid is not keeping pace with inflation. The College Success Toolkit includes resources and tools to implement important college affordability and financial aid strategies, including financial literacy programming, financial aid advising and advocacy, and internal emergency funds.

Summer Success Work: Summer is one of the key time periods in which college success programming is needed to address obstacles students face in the transition from high school to college during the summer months. This section of the toolkit offers affiliates resources to offer summer programming to combat the real persistence challenges during the summer period.


What’s Next

The draft version of our College Success Toolkit is meant to be a living document that will be continuously improved upon based on feedback from toolkit users and innovations in the college success landscape. The final version of the toolkit will incorporate additional sections, including transfer support, career resources, alternative pathways, and developing MOUs with institutions of higher education. 

Expanding college access is integral to creating a more equitable society, and ensuring all students have the opportunity to succeed on their chosen path and achieve social and economic well-being.