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Rio Salado Joins National Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity to Help Students and Communities Facing Major Challenges

A young black woman smiling. Rio Salado College, Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity

Rio Salado Joins National Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity to Help Students and Communities Facing Major Challenges

Today, Rio Salado College joined 35 educational institutions to launch the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity. Rio Salado and Taskforce member partners are driven to act by the challenges caused by the pandemic, income inequality, the changing nature of work, and levels of unemployment among recent college graduates nearly double those seen in the 2008 recession. The impact of this crisis is falling unevenly across groups and disproportionately impacting students from disadvantaged communities, despite their educational background. The Taskforce will provide greater opportunity to students and communities, while reimagining higher education's contribution to society and sharing insights with the broader education community. 

The Taskforce brings together leaders from across American higher education, including public, private, two-year, and four-year institutions that represent 2.5 million students nationwide. Taskforce members are focused on three key goals: ensuring student success despite the worst recession since World War II, partnering with local communities, and reimagining how higher education is delivered. 

Schools will take individual and collective action to meet the shared mission of the Taskforce through new goals set every six months. Member institutions are now launching the first round of initiatives to prepare the graduates of 2021 - 2023 for success in the post-pandemic economy. In the coming months, Taskforce members will develop programs to support local communities, and additional programs will follow to reimagine the future of higher education and prepare students for work in a post-pandemic world.

As part of this effort, Rio Salado is launching its Unsung Heroes initiative in partnership with CommonSpirit Health, which will focus on designing stackable, micro-credential pathways and short-term skills training to reduce unemployment, underemployment, and high turnover rates in frontline roles across seven national locations. 

The goal is to provide customized, work-based learning opportunities readily available to underserved populations and primarily new-to-college/first generation adult learners. The pilot program is set to launch in Arizona this year, where approximately 61% of the CommonSpirit Health employees are Hispanic and female. 

“We designed this program to meet the unique needs of CommonSpirit and its employees,” said Rio Salado Interim President Kate Smith, who is a Taskforce member. “We believe these kinds of customized learning opportunities will increase student success and social and economic mobility.  This program will link students and graduates with internship and career opportunities, while supporting CommonSpirit and the healthcare industry to attract and retain skilled workers.” 

Taskforce membership will continue to grow to diversify and scale impact with a focus on action – uniquely positioning the Taskforce in the higher education space. 

To learn more about the Taskforce and member institutions' initiatives, click here

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