The importance of Comebackers in the greater picture of degree attainment.


Meet the Board of Directors, our staff and the people behind our special projects.


Building on existing local resources and developing a regional infrastructure for serving Comebackers.

Our Vision:

Every adult who aspires to earn a college degree has access to the resources and supports they need to start and complete a college degree

  • Every adult is connected to an individual who knows how to go to and through college.
  • Understanding the value of a degree and knowing how to succeed in college are ubiquitous within all communities, and across socioeconomic groups.
  • Adults have affordable college options at accredited institutions.
  • The practice of investing in adults completing college is mainstream in talent, workforce, and economic development strategies.

Our Mission:

To increase the number of adults completing college, by engaging business, higher education, government, organized labor, workforce and economic development, community building organizations, social service providers, and college graduates to align existing resources, remove barriers, and create new pathways for adults to complete a college degree.

Our Approach:

There are thirty-six million adults in America who could find better jobs, career satisfaction and financial opportunity by completing their postsecondary education. The Graduate! Network has proven that these adults, including those with multiple barriers, can finish what they started and find the path to more fulfilling lives, careers and economic well-being. The Network provides a comprehensive national solution that is delivered locally, combining a proven methodology that enhances and accelerates a community’s assets, technical assistance and peer support.  Focused on the needs and outcomes of Comebackers, our approach is to build awareness among leaders, engage a broad partnership, align policies and practices, and deliver services at scale. New and established communities grow through sharing of experiences and expertise, and the Network continues to provide additional training, benchmarks, new resources, a national knowledge and evidence base, messaging, professional development, and funding opportunities.


The Graduate! Network contributed a chapter to the Federal Reserve Bank’s book series Invest In Work. You can download the three books or read our chapter here.

We teamed up with New America to investigate the reasons and stories behind the adult Comebacker movement. Read the first installment of our reports here.


We think of the work of The Graduate! Network as a structure that supports and aligns actions at many levels: nationally, locally, and individuals within these partnerships and organizations. A commonality for all levels of this structure are the four Pillars that support and organize our work.


Support adults with research-based educational programs, services and academic practices that increase college completion.


Strengthen partnerships to influence policies and practices within and between sectors, particularly higher education, employers and communities, in and across regions as well as states.


Communicate why it matters for adult students to complete their degrees for civic, economic, and personal benefits, and how talent strategies can achieve goals through adult college completion. 


As a national consortium of support for adult college success, align and invest in research and design of sustainable and scalable business and funding models that can be duplicated across communities.


John Colborn

Chair of the Board

Chief Operating Officer, JEVS Human Services.

Patrick Eiding


President, Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO

Sallie Glickman

Co-Founder & Founding Chair, and Treasurer

 Principal, SJM Consulting

Hadass Sheffer

President and Co-Founder, The Graduate! Network, Inc

Matt Sigelman

CEO, Burning Glass Technologies, Inc.

Louis Soares

Chief Learning and Innovation Officer,

American Council on Education

Funding for our programs is provided by:


Hadass Sheffer


hadass.sheffer@graduate-network.org / 215.869.7569

Hadass Sheffer is President of The Graduate! Network, Inc. and founding executive director of Graduate! Philadelphia, the program that launched the Network. Under her leadership, Graduate! is building regional capacity in Philadelphia and across the country for getting more adults to finish college. Much of Hadass’ career has centered on education and creating opportunities for positive change in higher education on behalf of underserved populations. Prior to Graduate! Philadelphia, she served as Director of Higher Education Fellowships and Program Development at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Her portfolio included several higher ed fellowships, campus-community grants for the 2000 White House initiative Imagining America, and Humanities@Work, a program that introduced doctoral students to non-academic careers. Earlier, she taught adult students at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania’s College of General Studies, and “traditional” students at Swarthmore College. In between, she worked for an electronic publishing company. Hadass earned an MBA from Temple University and completed doctoral coursework in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her B.A. in Linguistics is from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Kathy Zandona

Senior Vice President, Network Engagement

kathy.zandona@graduate-network.org / 502-797-4849

Kathy Zandona is the Senior Vice President of Network Engagement with The Graduate! Network. She focuses engaging the business community and providing technical assistance to new member communities.

Kathy is also a consultant for Z Consulting, a company she started in January 2014. She provides education and workforce development consulting to help business and community leaders see the potential for improving the educational attainment of their citizens. Prior to starting her own company Kathy was the Vice President of Education and Workforce Development for Greater Louisville Inc. the metro chamber of commerce where she was responsible for connecting the business community with our educational systems – Pre-K to PhD. She served as Greater Louisville, Inc. (GLI) key liaison in the community-wide collaborative of increasing educational attainment leading to the signing of the Greater Louisville Education commitment and the formation of 55,000 Degrees. It is through strong education we can create the workforce of the future and make sure that Greater Louisville remains a competitive business region.

Kathy’s strong education focused background has provided her with many outlets to make sure that Greater Louisville education goals will be reached. Prior to joining Greater Louisville Inc., Kathy was the Director for Interactive Learning for the Health Enterprises Network, a GLI Affiliate. Her other previous experience includes over four years at the National Center for Family Literacy as the Senior Director of Training and Professional Development Services, five years at PNC University Leadership College and more than four years as a Quality Advisor for Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation. A graduate of the University of Kentucky, Kathy has extensive background in meeting facilitation, leadership training and development and Organizational Development

Bridgett R. Strickler

Vice President of Network Engagement


Bridgett Strickler is Vice President of Network Engagement.  Bridgett is passionate about educational attainment issues related to adult learners and has encouraged advancement in the greater Louisville region through her work with two Graduate! Network sites–  Degrees At Work and Education Matters Southern Indiana.  Bridgett is also the co-principal investigator and business engagement lead of Bridging The Talent Gap, a new project funded by Lumina Foundation and sponsored by The Graduate! Network.   She has a unique 20-year background combining education and entrepreneurship.  Bridgett recently earned her Master’s in Business Administration as part of University of Louisville’s and University of Kentucky’s Joint Executive MBA program. She also holds a Masters in Teaching from University of Louisville.  Strickler earned her Bachelor’s degree in Economics and International Relations from Bucknell University in 1988 where she was a Division I student athlete.  Recently she was awarded an honorary Associates Degree from Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg, IN.

Originally from Maryland, Bridgett has called the Louisville area home for the past 25 years.  She is married to Stuart Strickler, of Louisville, and they have two daughters, Caitlin and Bethany.

Zach Zimmerman

Data & Research Manager

Zach@Graduate-Network.org / 267.761.0017

Zach Zimmerman is the Data and Research Manager at The Graduate! Network. Zach tracks the progress of current and developing Graduate! Network communities and provides them with technical assistance and training around the use of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools for data collection. He is also the community liaison for The Graduate! Network’s data projects, Bridging the Talent Gap and Data That Moves Us.

Prior to joining The Graduate! Network Zach spent time working in the private sector, specializing in project management and coordination.  Zach has always been involved in education and continues to pursue this passion by supporting students through tutoring in Mathematics.  He has always found supporting students in this capacity to be extremely gratifying. Zach completed his undergraduate work at Ithaca College earning a degree in Mathematics. He is a lifelong music lover and musician.

Malik Brown

Executive Director, Graduate! Philadelphia


Malik Brown is a seasoned leader with a unique portfolio of cross-sector experiences.  His work and impact span multiple industries, including business, nonprofit, and higher education.  At the Graduate! Network, Malik is responsible for developing strategic, cross-sector relationships (business, government, higher education, and nonprofit) in order to advance the mission of adult degree attainment, workforce readiness, and inclusive economic development.

In his previous role as the associate vice president of workforce solutions & community impact for Peirce College, Malik was responsible for building workforce development solutions, cultivating strategic partnerships, and driving community impact.

Prior to joining higher ed, Malik was part of the executive team at Diversified Community Services.  He was responsible for the adult and family services division of the organization.  Malik partnered with colleges and universities, city and state officials, corporations, and foundations to help working adults and families across the region achieve economic wellbeing and financial stability.

Over the course of his career, Malik has worked in finance, customer relationship management, and diversity and inclusion. His time with national organizations like Inroads, Accenture, and the United Way has provided him with a broad range of management insights and capabilities—and a passion for serving working adults and nontraditional populations.

Malik is a passionate advocate and champion of social and economic mobility for non-traditional learners.  To make a difference and give voice to important regional issues, Malik also serves on several nonprofit boards and regional steering committees.  He serves on the board of directors of ACHIEVEability and the Settlement Music School, and on the Education and Talent Steering Committees for both the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the Main Line Chamber of Commerce.

Malik is a life-long learner.  He strongly believes in ongoing career development, sponsorship, and life coaching for those who are most disconnected from opportunity. He is a servant leader who is dedicated to the personal and professional development of others.

Malik attended Clark University in Worcester, MA where he earned his BA and MBA.  Malik has been married to his wife Ayana for 13 years and has two little girls (Aleena and Myka).  He resides in the West Oak Lane section of the city.  Above all else, Malik is most proud of his relationship with his two girls.

Dr. Kevin Aiken

Vice President, College Success & Community Outreach

kevin.aiken@graduatephiladelphia.org / 215.493.1497

Kevin Aiken comes to Graduate! Philadelphia with over 20 years of experience in educating and advising adult learners. Kevin’s past experiences include serving as Executive Vice President of Enrollment Management and Chief Operating Officer of Lancaster Bible College at the Center for Urban Theological Studies.  He also served as a Recruiter, Admissions Counselor, Academic Advisor, Director of Student Accounts, Director of Admissions, and Director of Enrollment at Geneva College.  In addition, he has taught various courses to adult learners including Introduction to Theology, Principles of Leadership and Development in Ministry.

Kevin earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in Urban Leadership and one in Theology, both from Geneva College, He earned a master’s degree in Philosophy in Christian Thought from the Biblical Theological Seminary and is currently a candidate for a Ph.D. in Leadership from Capital Graduate College.  Kevin has written numerous publications, journals, and presentations. He attributes his accomplishments on being a third generation preacher, pastor, and church planter.

Denise Whittaker

Senior College Success Advisor

denise.whittaker@graduatephiladelphia.org / 215.933.2139

Denise has always wanted to teach and over the years has stressed the importance of continuing education to children as well as adults. Coordinating educational and fun events in her community became a major part of her time. Denise felt that if she wasn’t teaching in schools why not use that passion in her community helping her neighbors to make decisions based on good information; she felt this too was educating. She earned her B.S. at University of Phoenix when her son left home to attend college. On graduation day, her son told her that she was his inspiration and the long nights writing papers and missing sleep were all worth it. Denise says, “Stay committed. You will make such an impact on someone else’s life as well as your own.”

Anthony Johnson

College Success Advisor

anthony.johnson@graduatephiladelphia.org / 215.360.4568

Anthony Johnson is a Philadelphia native and a dedicated educator with over 20 years of experience in program management and administration. He is an instructor in the fields of education, human services, and GED. In addition to his work at Graduate! Philadelphia, Anthony is C.E.O. of Dream Field Academy, a non-profit organization that provides academic enrichment and fencing lessons to youth and adults.

Anthony’s interests include motivating and challenging people of all ages to achieve. Anthony received his B.A. from Cheney University and his M.A. from La Salle University. He is the author of 7 books as well as over 80 articles in newspapers and magazines.

Dan Ash, Ph.D.

Research Director, Bridging the Talent Gap

Dr. Dan Ash, who developed the survey and project to this point, will serve as Research Director.  An expert in workplace psychology and training program development, Dr. Ash served as the founding executive director of Metropolitan College at its inception in 1998, which has since established itself as a national and international model for education business partnerships and has received praiseworthy coverage by a multitude of media outlets including CNN, the Chronicle for Higher Education, the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, and the Wall Street Journal. Metropolitan College provided more than $7 million in educational benefits to more than 8,000 participants who successfully completed more than 89,000 college credit hours. Dr. Ash was instrumental in establishing similar programs at Norton Healthcare, Humana, ResCare, and the UPS Chicago Area Consolidation Hub.

Since 2009, Dr. Ash has served on the leadership team responsible for creating a regional education initiative—55 Thousand Degrees—with the goal of moving Louisville into the top tier among its peer cities by raising education attainment so that by 2020, 40% of working-age adults hold a bachelor’s degree and 10% an associate’ s degree.

Mike Kennedy

Data Scientist, Bridging the Talent Gap

Michael Kennedy is the data scientist for Bridging the Talent Gap, In that role, he creates data dashboards for local partners, as well as customized individual reports for participating organizations. He also designed and maintains the data warehouse holding the data. As his day job, Kennedy works for Humana as the Sr. Business Intelligence Data Analyst for the Consumer Marketing and Data Analytics department, where he does similar work.

Prior to that he worked for 55,000 Degrees, Louisville, Kentucky’s educational collaborative, where he first became acquainted with The Graduate! Network. Kennedy holds a B.S. in Political Science and an MBA from the University of Louisville.

Annette Mattei

Project Director, Data That Moves Us

Annette B. Mattei is a research consultant with more than 20 years of experience supporting non-profit organizations and government programs in developing and executing research projects and other mission-related activities. She is Principle of Metro Metrics LLC, an independent research consulting practice and certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) based in Philadelphia, PA. Ms. Mattei has completed a range of research projects, from large-scale regional economic impact studies, to sector analyses, to organizational-level strategic plans and program evaluations. Before becoming an independent consultant, Ms. Mattei served as Director of Research for the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Economy League (now known as the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia), the Commonwealth’s leading regionally based statewide public policy organization. Currently, she also is serving as Project Manager for the Data That Moves Us initiative, a project of The Graduate! Network. In this role, she is facilitating the work of a national advisory board, which is charged with evaluating the network’s shared measurement system and developing recommendations to leverage it in support of significant growth projected over the next five years.

Misty Palma

Administrative Assistant


Misty recently relocated to the Philadelphia area and is delighted to join and support The Graduate! Network team. A native of Northern California, Misty enjoys travel and diversity in cultures around the world. She has always valued the importance of education for those of all backgrounds, motivated by the thought that we share a responsibility to each other in the community. Misty spent the last 9 years volunteering in the Cambodian community and assisting with advancing education among second language learners. She’s been deeply shaped from life changing experiences while living and volunteering in Cambodia, along with assisting the deaf Cambodian community within the rural areas of the country. She finds the deepest satisfaction knowing she can help teach or motivate others to learn, even when they come from a background of little to no education. Misty’s motivation for helping others is driven by the knowledge of how education and exposure to other possibilities can change the course of a person’s lifetime, that outcome is well worth any effort involved.