Working Students Success Network

Project Update

Working Student Success Network (WSSN) colleges are beginning the third year of developing and offering integrated services that help students move up the economic ladder.  Participating colleges continue to focus on helping students develop and follow achievable career plans, tap into all available resources to improve students’ financial stability while they pursue their education, and access financial services and learn to build assets.

As colleges think about sustainability, however, they’re beginning to think about the kind of cultural change that would make WSSN services simply the services colleges offer to all students, regardless of their financial status. Some possible indicators of this kind of cultural change were raised at the California colleges’ meeting. They include behaviors and events such as:

  • Respect for cultural and socioeconomic diversity reflected consistently across campus.
  • Increased capacity for reporting the sequencing, stacking and/or bundling of services.
  • A clearly defined equity vision statement and documenting of progress toward equity goals.
  • Campus events that promote WSSN services.
  • Faculty reinforce the utilization of services.

Further conversations about cultural change that supports the WSSN approach will continue over the coming year.

Project Description

The national expansion of the Working Students Success Network (WSSN) strategy supports 19 community colleges in four states as they create pathways and provide integrated services that prepare low-income students for jobs with family-sustaining wages. WSSN strategy was developed to help low-income people reach financial stability and move up the economic ladder by promoting an innovative framework that strategically integrates and bundles three distinct but related services:

  1. Education and employment advancement— education, job readiness, training, and placement;
  2. Income and work supports— access to student financial aid, public benefits, tax credits, and free tax assistance; and
  3. Financial services and asset building— financial education and coaching linked to affordable products and services to help families build self-sufficiency, stabilize their finances, and become more economically competitive.

This work is grounded in the belief that achieving a postsecondary credential is the best way to end intergenerational poverty and, thus, the ultimate goal of the community college expansion is to make it easier for low-income students to balance work, family, and education/professional aspirations. The expansion focuses on systems change through college culture and operations in order to support student success and ultimately family economic success. Colleges will do this by building upon and integrating the WSSN strategy into existing student-success efforts and workforce focused innovations and best practices.  View Helping Community College Students Achieve Financial Stability.

This effort is supported with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Lumina Foundation, MetLife Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 

The community college expansion of the WSSN strategy seeks to demonstrate that embedding the WSSN strategy in college culture and systems can be cost effective and has the potential to bring about institutional change that leads to significant improvement in outcomes for low income students. The long term goal is to change the way community colleges operate so that low income students routinely and systematically receive the services that evidence suggests make a difference in whether a student thrives or languishes.  

Participating WSSN Colleges and State Partner Organizations






Initiative Files


  • Millions of Americans are struggling financially, including more than seven million community college students. Unlike their traditional counterparts at four-year institutions, community college students often juggle family responsibilities, several jobs, and other personal demands. These students are more likely to be immigrants, underemployed, and the first generation in their families to go to college. The financial complexities of their lives can be overwhelming and may have negative consequences for achieving their academic goals.

    Through formal and informal surveys of administrators, faculty, and students, as well as secondary research, Achieving the Dream (ATD), a national community college reform network, and the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), an authority on consumer financial health, have identified three prominent financial health challenges that community college students face.

    Challenge One: Managing Cash Flow and Income Volatility. Juggling multiple income streams alongside irregular and often unexpected expenses makes money management an overwhelming task for anyone, and particularly for those who are also trying to focus on academics.

    Challenge Two: Lacking a Financial Cushion. Without a cushion of savings, many community college students are one financial emergency away from dropping out and struggling to return to college.

    Challenge Three: Accessing and Building Credit. Community college students, like other consumers, rely on access to credit to manage cash flows, fill short-term gaps, and pursue long-term opportunities. However many students have thin, or damaged credit files, forcing them to rely on high-cost, and sometimes predatory, loans.

    Students who are struggling financially can improve their financial health and ultimately impact their academic success. In fact, financial health, defined as what comes about when daily systems help a person or family build resilience and pursue opportunities, must be seen as an integral component of student success. Through cross-sector partnerships, collective investments, and internal commitments, colleges have an opportunity to offer services that will improve their students’ financial well-being. Achieving the Dream is committed to promoting and supporting efforts that improve student success based on knowledge emerging from its Working Students Success Network (WSSN), a group of 19 colleges working under ATD’s leadership to help low-income students build financial stability and prepare to move up the economic ladder. The WSSN has advanced an innovative framework that strategically integrates and bundles three distinct but related services: education and employment advancement, income and work supports, and financial services and asset building.

    Integrated efforts, bolstered by products and services like those described in this report, can be powerful tools for creating long-term student success. Fortunately, an increasing number of providers are innovating and designing with consumer success in mind. Yet navigating this landscape can be difficult for those without expertise in financial products. In this report, CFSI uses its Compass Principles, guidelines prepared for the U.S. financial services industry, which affirm standards of excellence in the design and delivery of basic tools that people use to manage their daily financial lives.

    Because financial products and services are generally not designed uniquely for the community college student, the entire financial services ecosystem was reviewed to identify products and services that would meet students’ needs. The tools are meant to be illustrative only and do not constitute an endorsement of a particular product, provider, or program. Students and colleges should ensure they understand any associated fees with any financial product they choose to use.

    Read the full report below.

    Resource Files

  • Two years into the WSSN initiative, reports from the colleges involved and evaluations from our partners reveal that for campuses that have implemented the approach with the greatest fidelity, WSSN is a catalyst for culture change, an integrated hub of service delivery, and a data-driven approach leading to better monitoring and increased success for low- income students.

    While the WSSN initiative has led to essential services being provided to tens of thousands of low-income students, more important is its role as a catalyst for long-term institutional change and capacity building. Specifically, the WSSN initiative has led to three major changes:

    1. Changing institutional culture
    2. Effectively bundling both low- and high-touch services
    3. Improved data collection and analysis systems

    Read more, including case studies from successful WSSN colleges, in the brief below.

  • A new report from CLASP analyzes how students were served by Benefits Access for College Completion (BACC), a 2.5-year initiative designed to increase access to public benefits (such as SNAP or Medicaid) for eligible low-income students. These crucial supports reduce students’ unmet financial needs and help them finish school.

    Launched in 2011, BACC funded seven community colleges to develop and implement sustainable policies and practices for embedding benefits access strategies into their operations. CLASP’s report, Lessons Learned from a Community College Initiative to Help Low-Income Students, outlines challenges and successes experienced by college sites as well as statewide systems. 

    Among colleges participating in BACC, no two institutions employed the same benefit access strategy. However, all the institutions found that increasing access to public benefits was more effective when combined with other services in which students already engage, such as financial aid, counseling, and advising. In addition, CLASP found that colleges’ success with integrating and sustaining benefits depended on: 

    The role of institutional leadership in fostering buy-in success;

    • Changes in student flow and business processes;
    • Actions to overcome cultural barriers within the institution;
    • The capacity to produce and use data;
    • The importance of collaboration and teamwork within the colleges;
    • New relationships with local and state benefits agencies; and
    • The need to overcome student stigma.
    • Drawing on data from an evaluation of BACC, the report also demonstrates how increased access to benefits improves student progress toward degree completion. This is especially true for students who bundle multiple benefits while enrolled.

    The success of CLASP’s BACC initiative confirms the importance of public benefits for low-income students. By reducing unmet financial need, these supports help students complete school and enter the workforce. Institutions themselves also benefit through higher completion rates. Federal and state policymakers should leverage the lessons of BACC to better align public benefits and financial aid rules, as well as ensure postsecondary attendance is supported by public benefits programs, to help low-income students build skills, obtain credentials, and succeed in today’s economy. 

  • All WFSNCC colleges are required to submit yearly narrative and budget reports. The narrative and budget are an opportunity to consider your institution’s WFSNCC work over the past year and to plan for the coming year. Your institution’s reflection helps inform Achieving the Dream’s WFSNCC work as we work to support all colleges as they implement and scale the WFSNCC strategy. This report also helps to build our knowledge of the institutional change process. The deadline for these reports vary depending on the phase the college entered the initiative. For institutions that joined WFSNCC in 2014, the narrative and budget are due on July 31, 2015.

    To complete the WFSNCC Narrative, your institution should engage a representative group of the WFSNCC team to review and discuss the institution’s progress on strategy implementation. This discussion will be helpful as you complete the narrative.

    Please complete the WFSNCC Budget Template. Please note that the template asks you to report on direct and indirect expenses, as well as match funds raised for the grant’s match requirement. Please refer to Section I Subsection F and Section XI Subsection D of the grant agreement for the project match requirements. For the fundraising component of the budget, please indicate any institutional funds your college reallocated to support WFSNCC efforts or any funds received from an external source. Please provide a brief summary in the notes section of the budget template that generally describes the source and uses of match funding (the notes section is equivalent to a budget narrative).

    Please submit the budget in xls or xlsx format. The narrative may be submitted in either doc, docx, or pdf format.  Please submit your narrative and budget report via email to

    Please contact Julian Haynes or Elyssa Shildneck at


    Resource Files

  • Achieving the Dream hosts a series of webinars for colleges participating in the Working Families Success Network in Community Colleges (WFSNCC) Expansion Initiative. These webinars span a variety of topics ranging from public benefits to financial products. Below please find the PowerPoint Presentations used during these webinars. Please visit the WFSNCC playlist on Achieving the Dream's YouTube Channel to view the recordings of these webinars. 

    If you are interesting in hosting or attending a webinar relevant to WFSNCC or the WFSN strategy please email

  • The implementation plan serves as an action plan for integration and implementation of the WFSNCC strategy as an institution wide approach to serving low-income community college students and their families. As colleges implement their plans, they are expected to begin with scale and sustainability in mind. As a result, this plan will be a guiding tool throughout the next three years as the college progresses from implementation to scaling, and ultimately institutionalization.

    This plan should emphasize the goal of transforming the institution’s culture and operations to holistically support low-income students and include plans for leadership engagement and commitment to the WFSNCC strategy. The implementation plan should align with each college’s respective logic model and support the college in reaching the outputs, outcomes, and impacts outlined in that logic model.

    Each college will demonstrate how issues of equity will be intentionally integrated through culturally sensitive engagement of students and training for faculty and staff. Equity is a critical focus of WFSNCC and colleges are expected to serve a diverse population of low-income students and a significant percentage of students of color.

    The implementation plan will specify how the college will implement WFSNCC services to support the needs of an increasing number of low-income students by providing a variety of both high- and low-touch services. Colleges will identify the services that will be implemented or expanded to support students in each of the three core WFSNCC core service areas and plan for internal and external partnerships that can be leveraged to support service delivery.

    The implementation plan will also describe a plan for data collection, reporting, and information sharing to strengthen the evidence base for WFSNCC. This plan should show how the institution will seek to improve and streamline systems, and engage institutional leaders in support of culture change and sustainability.

    Completing this plan is critical for successful WFSNCC implementation and will serve as an important element in identifying and aligning the right combination of technical assistance needs of each institution.

    Implementation Plan Review Process:

    Assigned WFSNCC coaches will provide feedback on the logic models to help guide implementation plan development. The same coaches will provide scheduled and as needed support to colleges as they work on their implementation plans. ATD, in consultation with the coaches, will connect colleges to a team of technical assistance providers ready to provide content specific support on issues such as culture change, benefits access, partnerships and more. Throughout the planning process ATD will host webinars, share resources, and identify a variety of other ways to be proactive about ensuring that the colleges have the needed resources to successfully implement and work toward scaling WFSNCC. 

    Draft Due: November 14, 2014
    Extended Deadline-Final Draft Due: January 31, 2015

  • The following resources where shared during the 2014 WFSN Inaugural Forum, an event that served as the kickoff institute for the 16 colleges participating in the WFSN Expansion Initiative. If you have any questions about the materials below please email:

  • This new initiative to expand the Working Families Success Network (WFSN) in up to 18 colleges in four states by bringing colleges together and integrating access to a full range of services and supports to help students.  These student supports and services include access to financial aid, public benefits and other resources, improve their financial knowledge, budgeting skills and choice of financial products, and develop and implement achievable career plans, putting students on a path to completing their college-level study and achieving economic self-sufficiency.

  • This implementation guide is designed to be used by community college leaders, faculty and staff who are interested in starting or expanding a Working Families Success effort at their institution. The guide can be read from start to finish or accessed at different points depending how far along your college is.

    Resource Files

    WFSN Implementation Guide.pdf1023.43 KB

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