Educational attainment a key driver of economic growth

When Lee Friedman joined College Now Greater Cleveland in 2010, she found an organization in a state of transition. She would still be working hard to help middle and high school students get to college, but the impact of that effort was now being viewed in a different light.

“This is one of the most important things we need to do, not just for these individuals to get this opportunity, but collectively for all of us to keep the region economically healthy,” says Friedman, College Now Greater Cleveland’s CEO. 

A study by economist Sandra Pianalto, former president and CEO at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, had concluded that there are two big predictors of a region’s economic health.

“One of those measures was the number of patents that come out of a region, and the second was the number of degrees or educational credentials held by people in the region,” Friedman says. “Ohio is the seventh-largest state but ranked 38th in educational attainment, which is clearly an economic stagnator, not a driver.”

Find the money

Ohio also ranks low in college affordability, making the challenge of getting the next generation the best education possible even more difficult. Gov. Mike DeWine recently added money to the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, but there is still much work to be done.

And as a not-for-profit, College Now Greater Cleveland has its own challenges with financing.

“How do you build a diverse business model and then identify potential funders, grantors and philanthropists that would be willing to invest in your work and stick with you over the long haul, not just provide a one-time gift and then what happens next year?” Friedman says. “The challenge for every not-for-profit is identifying funding streams that you can depend on. We’ve been very fortunate.”

Clearing the obstacles

College Now Greater Cleveland reaches more than 29,000 students and adult learners each year. It is one of six partners in the Say Yes to Education Cleveland program, which seeks to increase the education levels of Cleveland residents, improve college access and spur economic growth.

“It’s a comprehensive approach to make sure students are staying on track, from preschool all the way through, including college completion or post-secondary program completion,” Friedman says. “It’s using local resources already in existence to create wraparound services in the school buildings so students aren’t distracted from their academic path because they can’t get what they need.”

Have a clear mission

Successful not-for-profits are able to develop a mission and a business strategy that’s both easily understood and resonates with potential donors.

“People have to understand what your work is and why it’s important,” Friedman says. “That has to be very clearly articulated. And you have to be able to measure your work and show outcomes.”