Supporting States to Direct Public Dollars Toward Evidence-Based Support Services that Address Barriers to Postsecondary Education

Practice Area: Economic Mobility Scope: Nation Location: CO, AZ, OH, AL, RI, CT, MI Status: Active

Project Overview

Since 2019, Third Sector has supported two cohorts of the Partnerships to Achieve Student Success (PASS), a group of state systems of higher education that aims to improve student outcomes to and through postsecondary education. Both cohorts focused on facilitating direct, outcomes-based, public funding relationships between state-level higher education partners and higher education access and success programs that would provide greater support in ensuring students enroll, persist and complete postsecondary education and earn a credential.


Everyone, no matter their age, race, zip code, or previous educational background deserves to get the education and the career they want. And yet millions of Americans face significant barriers to enrolling, persisting, and completing postsecondary education and obtaining a credential - even as more and more of the best paying jobs require some kind of postsecondary education.

At the same time, there are a variety of wraparound student support services and promising practices offered by providers across the country that have demonstrated success in improving outcomes for students who face more barriers to college than others by meeting their specific needs and removing those barriers. While the evidence for these services, programs, and policies continues to grow, many states are not investing at the level necessary to achieve impact.

The Partnerships to Achieve Student Success (PASS) cohort envisions a future in which public systems of higher education strategically invests in the resources, evidence-informed wraparound support services, and policies necessary to support college-seeking students who face the most significant barriers to enrollment, persistence, and graduation.


In 2019, Third Sector formed the Partnerships to Achieve Student Success (PASS) cohort, with support from the Kresge Foundation, to create partnerships with state systems of higher education across the country to engage in innovative, outcomes-driven approaches to supporting students with historically low enrollment, persistence, and completion rates.

During this first PASS cohort, Third Sector worked with Arizona (Arizona State University), Colorado (Colorado Department of Higher Education), Connecticut (Connecticut State Colleges & Universities), and Ohio (Ohio Department of Higher Education) on using innovative outcomes-based contracting to obtain evidence-based student supports in service of better postsecondary outcomes for a specific student population.

In the second PASS cohort, launched in 2022 with support from the ECMC Foundation, Third Sector partnered with the Alabama (Alabama Commission on Higher Education), Michigan (Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Office of Sixty by 30), and Rhode Island (Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary Commissioner) - all of whom were interested in better serving adults with some college, no degree.

Third Sector provided both cohorts with six months of technical assistance, cross-cohort peer learning, and field building to:

  • Identify disparities in outcomes using disaggregated data sets;
  • Refine the challenge they are seeking to address by learning more about the population most impacted by barriers to higher education in their states and critically examine root causes of the challenge; and 
  • Engage stakeholders in the co-design of solution(s) to address the challenge.

By the end of each cohort, states co-created implementation plans with Third Sector that outlined the data-informed challenge they are seeking to address, the specific subpopulation of students most impacted, root causes of the challenge and corresponding population needs, a solution co-designed with stakeholders,and clear next steps for how they might leverage policies, support services, data, and funding to implement the solution.

Three states chose to continue working with Third Sector to implement their action plans - Colorado and Ohio from the 2019 cohort and Alabama from the 2022 cohort. Learn more in our featured section to the right.

We will begin recruiting for the 2024 PASS cohort in late 2023. Please contact Jessica Praphath ( for more information!

Practice area:

Economic Mobility

Third Sector works with communities and our government agencies to reimagine basic needs, education, and training supports and that help people find the careers and lives of their dreams.
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