Raise the Bar: College Excellence and Equity

Raise the Bar: College Excellence and Equity

"Some of the most important innovations in higher education today are being driven by institutions that get little glory but that are narrowing gaps in access to college opportunity and accelerating their graduates' economic mobility ... I can think of no work more worthy of prestige than putting higher education within the reach of more Americans, and helping our students attain degrees that change their lives — just as mine did for me."

- U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona


Building a higher education system that is inclusive, delivers real value to students, and promotes equity and upward mobility is essential to the Biden-Harris administration's efforts to grow America's middle class and strengthen our nation's global competitiveness.

In today's economy, most well-paying jobs require some education beyond high school—whether that is an industry credential, certificate, or two-year or four-year college degree. Secretary Cardona has called on K-12 education leaders to reimagine pathways to college and careers beginning in high school, as part of his "Raise the Bar: Lead the World," agenda. At the higher education level, the "Raise the Bar: College Excellence and Equity" initiative reflects the U.S. Department of Education's commitment to ensuring that students of all backgrounds, ages, and income levels are able to succeed in whatever postsecondary pathway they choose.

The problem is that our current higher education system leaves too many students behind, especially from historically underserved communities of color and lower-income communities.

Pervasive funding inequities, rising costs, lagging state investments in higher education, and the shrinking value of federal Pell Grants have shifted costs to students and left many open-access institutions underfunded. All of these challenges contribute to a college completion crisis in which just 3 in 5 first-time students earn a credential within six years nationally. When attending for-profit four-year institutions and public two-year institutions, fewer than half of students graduate within that same timeframe. The same goes for underrepresented students of color across all higher education sectors.

Under Secretary Cardona's leadership, the Department of Education is taking on these challenges by intentionally collaborating with partners at the state and national levels, with institutions of higher education, and other stakeholders.

At the Department, we are focused on investing in inclusive institutions, highlighting proven approaches, and expanding transparency to help students make good choices and to help colleges improve.

Our "Raise the Bar: College Excellence and Equity" initiative is about lifting-up—and learning from—inclusive institutions that are pioneering new approaches to close equity gaps and propel more students to graduate into well-paying jobs and lead fulfilling lives.

Through policies, investments, and convenings, we are calling on America's colleges and universities to raise the bar by supporting inclusive student success, increasing completion rates, and living up to higher education's promise of upward mobility.

Key Focus Areas

Over the next two years and beyond, the Department will bring together changemakers, recognize and promote institutions with demonstrated success, and make strategic investments to scale what works. Working closely with the field, the Department will champion and support leaders across the country to raise the bar on college excellence and equity.

Convene Changemakers Recognize and Promote Success Make Investments to Scale
  • Host a series of summits highlighting how institutions are raising the bar for student success
  • Develop and share best practices for improving student outcomes
  • Recognize institutions promoting inclusive success
  • Encourage higher education leaders to commit to improving completions of value and closing gaps
  • Increase transparency about college inclusivity and student outcomes with data
  • Fund evidence-based strategies for success through Postsecondary Student Success grants and Project SUCCESS
  • Fund a new Postsecondary Success Technical Assistance Center (proposed by President Biden in his fiscal year 2024 budget)

Convene Changemakers

Bring together college presidents and higher education leaders to share practices for achieving more equitable outcomes for students.

Building on the inaugural Raise the Bar: College Excellence and Equity Summit held in August 2022, the Department will continue our efforts with a series of convenings that expand upon the themes that emerged from the discussion with higher education leaders making real change for their campuses and students.

Recognize and Promote Success

Spotlight institutions focused on inclusivity, equity, and upward mobility, build momentum for evidence-based strategies, and urge higher education leaders to raise the bar by committing to bold change.

For far too long, our nation's most accessible, inclusive colleges have struggled with inadequate resources to support student success, while many well-resourced institutions chase rankings that reward privilege and selectivity over equity and upward mobility. Reimagining higher education means recognizing institutions driving inclusive student success and urging more institutions to commit to bold, evidence-based strategies for closing equity gaps and improving outcomes, especially for students of color and students from low-income circumstances.

The Biden-Harris administration will continue to publish data to strengthen transparency and promote value in higher education, including through enhancements to the College Scorecard that not only help students navigate their postsecondary choices, but also empower institutional leaders to set goals and measure their progress on lowering costs for students, increasing student and faculty diversity, improving transfer and completion rates, and graduating students with credentials that lead to economic success.

Make Investments to Scale

Fund evidence-based strategies to improve student outcomes.

The Department will continue leveraging grant programs and other resources to encourage investments that will build the evidence base for what works and scale proven strategies that increase student success and completion. These efforts will include the second round of college completion funding through our Postsecondary Student Success Program (PSSG), and additional investments through the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), Title III and Title V, the Strengthening Institutions Program, and vital student-centered programs like Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), and TRIO.

The Department also has renewed Project Success, which supports collaborative efforts by major guarantee agencies to help Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges, and other Minority-Serving Institutions improve student retention, completion, and their post-graduation earnings so they can successfully repay their investments in higher education.