What are the Root Causes Preventing

Students from Completing a Degree?


While much postsecondary access and success programs successfully support students to enroll in a degree or credential program after high school, completion rates of students from low-income communities continue to lag far behind their high-income peers. To understand the underlying causes behind students not completing their postsecondary pathway, our study focused on two research questions:

  1. What is the root cause of students stopping out?
  2. Why do students who stop out return to complete their degree/credential?

In this Root Causes webinar we share findings and recommendations for improvements to strategic planning, program delivery, curriculum design, and communication with partners.

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Webinar Presenters

Melissa Connelly

Chief Executive Officer, OneGoal

Melissa Connelly is the CEO of OneGoal, a national postsecondary access and success organization. Prior to becoming CEO, Melissa served as the organization’s first Chief Program Officer. As a first-generation college graduate herself, Melissa’s path to pand through college was not easy. She started high school in a truancy program, but with the support of caring educators, she went on to obtain three college degrees with a 4.0 GPA. Melissa has spent more than 15 years in education working to make certain her accomplishments are not an anomaly, but the norm for underserved youth. Melissa also serves on the board of directors of Reading Partners, is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), and an alumna of the prestigious Surge Institute Fellowship. She earned a BA from the University of Illinois-Chicago, as well as Masters of Arts in Teaching and a Masters of Education Administration from Dominican University. Melissa is most proud of the work she is doing as a mother to Ashland and Addae.

Sarah Daniels

OneGoal Alum, Class of 2011

Sarah Daniels is a Class of 2011 OneGoal Alum from Ace Technical Charter High School in Chicago, IL. Sarah received her BA in Communication/Public Relations from Millikin University in 2016 and her Master of Public Administration from University of Illinois-Springfield in May 2019. Sarah joined ICOY in March 2020, as a Policy Analyst amidst a global pandemic and has recently been promoted to Assistant Executive Director where she focuses on special projects and other expanded leadership efforts. She serves as a subject matter resource in the area of changes to the child welfare and multisystem-involved youth, including staying abreast of state and federal policies in the form of law, rules, and guidance.

Pam Johnson Davis

Director of Fellow Support, OneGoal

Pam R. Johnson Davis is an educator, historian, & award-winning multidisciplinary artist with a Bachelor of Science in History, Master of Arts in Modern European History, and vocational training in Higher Education Leadership & Organizational Psychology. She currently serves as Director of Fellow Support at OneGoal, where she coaches Fellows in Year 3 of the OneGoal program. From adapting to the college landscape to identifying progressive pathway programs, she journey’s alongside Fellows as they work towards their highest postsecondary aspiration. Additionally, she serves as a OneGoal leader in our external work, namely on the Advisory Board for Chicagoland CareerPathways, Chicago’s highly sought-after progressive pathways database, and the Coalition for Transforming Higher Education in IL, where she advocates for OneGoal Fellows and IL students across the state to receive adequate, equitable, and sustainable education funding.

Daranee Teng

Director of Program Learning

Daranee’s work for OneGoal centers qualitative research and learning efforts to inform program improvements to better support students in reaching their highest postsecondary aspirations. Her previous professional experiences include consulting for MAIA Colegio Impacto, a nonprofit school for indigenous Maya girls in Sololá, Guatemala and as a Program Director for the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation. Daranee received a BA in Spanish Language & Literature and a BS in Journalism from Appalachian State University and an MA in Educational Policy & Practice from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Elijah Wright-Jefferson

OneGoal Alum, Class of 2016

Elijah Wright-Jefferson is a Class of 2016 OneGoal alum from Air Force Academy High School in Chicago, IL. He is currently a senior at Illinois State University pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and Video. Elijah recently worked with OneGoal’s Chicago Innovation Team supporting the design of the Summer Hub website, a free resource connecting all Chicago high school graduates to resources, information, and relationships to help prepare them for their next big step.

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