FFTS Launches County-Wide Initiative Enabling Postsecondary Success

The Foundation for Tacoma Students is excited to introduce our newest postsecondary success initiative, Pierce County Pathways, a dual approach to systems change and programmatic delivery. This initiative is a natural evolution of our community’s success in the first decade of the Graduate Tacoma movement. It consists of three distinct yet interconnected areas which help advance our community’s 2030 goal—postsecondary access, postsecondary completion, and entry into the workforce.

Graduate Tacoma's 2030 Community Goal

By 2030, 70 percent of Tacoma Public Schools students will earn a degree, technical certificate, or gain a good-earning wage employment opportunity within six years of high school graduation. Targeted efforts will focus on students of color and those impacted by poverty.

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Achieving this goal will require doubling down on strategies that cut across enrollment, persistence, and completion and deepening our collective work to build a coordinated system of support that enables postsecondary success and economic mobility for all students. 

Today, 89% of Tacoma high schoolers graduate and receive diplomas on time. Likewise, the 5-year extended high school graduation rate has climbed to 91%. Although local high school graduation rates remain at an all-time high, postsecondary enrollment remains low. This is a troubling trend across Washington, which ranks near the bottom nationally in college enrollment and FAFSA completion, despite having one of the country’s most generous financial aid programs. 

Tacoma and Pierce County rates map onto these trends. Although the benefits of postsecondary education are widely acknowledged, less than half of our local graduates enroll in college immediately after high school. Of those who do, less than 50% persist to completion and graduate on time. The on-time completion rates for students of color and first-generation college students are much lower. 

These rates suggest that most students are unprepared for a future that requires more credentialed graduates. According to the Washington Student Achievement Council, nearly 70% of all projected job openings in Washington will require some education beyond high school. Two-thirds will require a certificate, associate degree, or higher. Credentials will play an increasingly important role in determining who is considered competitive for the jobs of the future.

We must intentionally address long-standing barriers to entry and deep-rooted equity gaps related to completion. We must ensure and expand greater access to the support necessary for students to earn these credentials—this means working together to champion, create, and support more equitable postsecondary pathways and career transitions. 

Our first multi-district strategy, Campaign Free Aid, is a county-wide effort to strengthen postsecondary access and enrollment by expanding support for students and their families to complete financial aid applications. Our goals include raising financial aid application completion rates by 5% across Pierce County over the next year and supporting greater utilization of the $60 million in available financial aid that went unclaimed by Washington students in 2021.

Pierce County Pathways encompasses additional data-driven strategies for improving postsecondary preparation and success, including:

  • Providing navigational supports for seniors to help with postsecondary planning and transition. 
  • Creating a greater sense of student belonging by way of social capital development. 
  • Expanding advisement to first-year college students through peer mentoring. 
  • Working with higher education and workforce leaders to increase career-connected opportunities, improve internship experiences, and develop more equitable pathways to credentials and good-earning wage careers. 


Since 2010, the Foundation for Tacoma Students has worked to support the Graduate Tacoma community-wide movement to increase the high school graduation rate of Tacoma Public Schools students by 50% by the Class of 2020.

We knew we could do better, and together we did. Our collective effort reversed trends and changed the deficit narrative about our community and its future. That future is now present, and the work continues. Join us in writing the next chapter!

Pierce County Pathways

Learn more about our efforts to create a coordinated system of supports enabling postsecondary success and economic mobility for all students.