A Reflection from ProjectAttain! Founder Dr. Jenni Murphy
It’s been five years since ProjectAttain! began. It was a big, bold idea born from a clear need: A need for an organization to help adults finish their education. There was no entity at the time focused solely on helping adults who found it necessary to pause their education navigate their way back, even while 675,714 adults in our region sat outside the realm of economic opportunity and social mobility because of being under-credentialed.
It was a problem – that if solved – would offer immense benefit for these individuals. The data proves that education advances equity and social and economic prosperity and that in and of itself makes ProjectAttain!’s efforts worthy of our time, attention, and collaboration. But other distinct problems could also be solved—namely helping employers fill workforce and talent deficits by bringing a larger skilled employment pool to market and bridging impending enrollment shortfalls for education institutions.
From the start, I saw nothing but promise in helping adults complete their education and have been passionately committed to bringing the concept to life ever since.
A lot has happened since 2018 when I hosted a Summit on Educational Attainment for Working Age Adults. It was an opportunity to highlight the realities and impact of educational attainment and successful practices from other states, regions, and communities. It was the first official event at Sac State Downtown and I anticipated 30-40 people. That we ended up managing a waiting list of over 110 attendees that day was both exciting and overwhelming, and it was proof that this vision had support.
Within three weeks, the first of many meetings was held to move this concept forward. The region adopted the name “ProjectAttain!” three months later. We expanded the definition of educational attainment for working age adults to include high school diplomas, GEDs, certificates, apprenticeships, associate degrees, and baccalaureate degrees as a way to increase the focus on equity and access.
We continued to study programs and solutions in other parts of the country and soon adopted 60% by 2030 as the ambitions goal for regional education attainment. It’s about this time that ProjectAttain! was accepted into The Graduate! Network and the Talent Networks sponsored by the Lumina Foundation. In early 2020 we stepped into the role of California Liaison for Degrees When Due (DWD), a national effort focused on degree reclamation and adult reengagement. With a vision squarely in place and key strategic partnerships building strength and credibility, ProjectAttain! was on a fast, upward trajectory.
It’s then that we faced our first real challenge. A years-long pandemic brought all efforts of the initiative to a snail’s pace. We were forced to build this new organization – and the support for and understanding of it – one by one, little by little, and over video calls instead of through events, meetings, and group networks.
Perseverance has its rewards. ProjectAttain! became an independent 501c3 in January of 2021. With an entrepreneurial mindset of “minimal viable product” and few resources we conducted silent pilots and small demonstration projects, created organizational structures, clarified service models, applied for grants, and continued hosting the communities of practice for the DWD California Cohort.
Today, ProjectAttain! is a Sacramento-based social impact organization helping adults who found it necessary to pause their education for one reason or another find their way back to obtain their degree, certificate, or diploma. That’s when the successes started stacking up:
- We were one of five entities nationwide selected for the Building Rural Community Learning Systems grant program which links education and workforce pathways in rural regions.
- We hosted the Summer Summit on Adult Learner Success with over 300 attendees that included opportunities for regional discussions on Adult Attainment Networks.
- We stepped forward to serve as the hub for the Sacramento K-16 Collaborative, providing project management and regional coordination through June of 2026.
- We formed the CaliforniaAttain! Alliance to link research on adult learners and degree completion to policy and practice.
- We developed the California ReConnect project with local and national partners.
I am very proud and truly excited for all that’s been achieved in these past five years, but also hold big ambitions for what still lies ahead because the need that prompted ProjectAttain! in the first place is as big and real as ever.
The number of under credentialed adults in our six-county region has increased by 30 percent since 2018 to over 872,000 adults who have the potential to increase their economic mobility through educational attainment. Data show that many of these individuals are persons of color, women, immigrants, and/or single parents. At the same time, enrollment in our educational institutions is down at all levels and while unemployment has decreased, talent shortages continue to grow, especially in the healthcare, technology, engineering, and education sectors.
These are numbers and circumstances that we cannot ignore, but we can solve. Our tools, programs, and services open the pathway to help adults finish what they started. We’ve built a network that enables education institutions to meet adults and non-traditional learners wherever they are in their journey back. And, we support regional employers by bringing more talent and skilled individuals to the workforce capable of filling the job needs of today.
It’s hard to believe that five years have gone by and honestly, the fog of the pandemic clouds my view of what I thought we could achieve by this point. At this reflection point, it’s clear that we are exactly where we need to be.
If you or someone you know has earned credits toward a degree, certificate, or diploma but encountered circumstances that prevented completion, please send them our way. We are here to help adults get back on track.
Dr. Jenni Murphy, is the Interim Vice-President of Student Affairs at Sacramento State, served as the Dean of the College of Continuing Education for Sacramento State, and is the founder of ProjectAttain!