From 2010 to 2020, the 55,000 Degrees partnership led efforts to help Louisville’s residents earn tens of thousands of postsecondary degrees. While 55,000 Degrees is no longer in operation, its mission lives on through a culture of learning through data and of collaborating across sectors. This page outlines the legacy of 55,000 Degrees and the continued journey to make Louisville a more-educated city so residents of all backgrounds have the opportunity to thrive.

For a brief history of 55,000 Degrees, see our press release GLP to House 55,000 Degree Data, Others Continue Work. For more details, explore the data, reports, videos, and information below.

About 55,000 Degrees

Introduction to 55,000 Degrees

The Business Community

The African-American Community





LOUISVILLE WAS AT A CROSSROADS as city and county governments merged in 2003. With unity came a community consensus to take stock of our city’s strengths and our challenges. Whether the issue was attracting new jobs or improving quality of life for all residents, the top priority for the new city of Louisville to flourish became increasingly clear: Education.

The rewards:

More opportunities for individuals as lifetime earnings nearly double with a college degree. More opportunities for the city as it competes for 21st-century jobs and improves its quality of life.

The Greater Louisville Project, an organization that has benchmarked the city’s progress since merger, consistently listed education as the most important deep driver for positive change. And the community had united behind a number of education initiatives including improving reading and graduation rates.

To jumpstart a new level of community conversation, Mayor Jerry Abramson invited school superintendents, college and university presidents and civic leaders to a new Education Roundtable in late 2008.

The challenge:

To look at strategies to raise educational attainment and create transformational change. At the same time, Business Leaders for Education, organized by Greater Louisville Inc., called for the urgent need to respond to global competitiveness challenges. They brought in the Business Higher Education Forum in August 2009 to help with a retreat to focus on solutions. Goal teams headed by university leaders rolled up their sleeves and developed a plan.

And in May 2010, the members of the Roundtable signed the historic Greater Louisville Education Commitment with five key objectives:

  1. Create and support a college-going culture
  2. Use the business community’s unique points of leverage to accelerate attainment
  3. Prepare students for success in college, career, citizenship and life
  4. Make post-secondary education accessible and affordable
  5. Increase educational persistence, performance and progress

In October 2010, a new public-private partnership called 55,000 Degrees took on this mission with the support of local foundations to launch Louisville into the top tier of our competitor cities with the bold goal of adding 40,000 bachelor’s degrees and 15,000 associate degrees by 2020.

Continuing the Work

As 55,000 Degrees closed out its 10-year initiative, its executive director and several key partners reflected on the impact of 55K and looked forward to what is needed to continue increasing affordable, equitable postsecondary education in Louisville. Their op-eds were published in the Courier Journal’s Forum section:

“Want a more educated Louisville? Here’s your call to action”
Mary Gwen Wheeler, Executive Director 55K 

“To be a world class city and disrupt inequitable systems, we must invest in education”
Marland Cole, Executive Director Evolve502

“How Academies of Louisville are creating opportunities for JCPS students and businesses”
Michael Gritton, Executive Director KentuckianaWorks

“Louisville’s way forward is to increase diversity in the technology/data science industry”
Alisia McClain, Director of Community and Education Initiatives, Microsoft Future of Work