One Million Degrees

Strategic Positioning, Media Relations, Brand Development, Fundraising Communications

Background

Community colleges, with their promise of low-cost, high value education, attract more than half of all college-goers in Illinois. Yet, graduation rates in Illinois and nationally are chronically low. One Million Degrees (OMD) is the only Illinois organization, and one of few in the country, providing essential support services to Chicago and suburban community college students to increase graduation rates, accelerating the pathway to economic opportunity. The organization sought support for a range of activities, beginning with messaging for its tenth anniversary and largest fundraising campaign, and extending to extensive media relations to underscore the value of community college to students, communities, and employers and the linkage between its programs and student success.

Our Work

Collaborating with the Executive Director and Director of Development, we carried out stakeholder interviews – staff, board, students, employers – and research to build the case for OMD’s distinctive program providing tutoring, mentoring, professional development, and financial assistance services. Following the messaging and branding engagement, we developed and implemented a strategic communications plan for local and national media to promote greater awareness and visibility. We developed and implemented the communications plan for the national release of groundbreaking research from the University of Chicago’s Inclusive Economy Lab on the success of OMD’s community college student support model; introduced a new CEO to key stakeholders; and helped develop and place Op-Eds; and managed all media relations for the late 2022 announcement of major philanthropic funding to support transformative program expansion with City Colleges of Chicago.

Impact

One Million Degrees reached its ambitious capital campaign goal ahead of schedule. The organization has deepened and expanded its relationship with Chicago area community colleges, grown its network of voluntary corporate coaches, and expanded its programming, backed by leading national foundations. OMD is recognized as a key partner with the City Colleges of Chicago and participates with companies such as Aon, Accenture and JPMorgan Chase in a nationally recognized apprenticeship program for community college students. OMD’s CEO is a national thought leader, speaking at major conferences and placing Op-Eds, on the proven importance of surrounding community college students with supports to increase persistence and graduation. Media coverage of OMD’s successful strategy has appeared in national and local outlets, including The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the Hechinger Report, Crain’s Chicago Business, WBEZ, Chicago Tribune, and WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. All told, OMD is enjoying sustained media coverage, program growth, and increased donor support.