Dhanfu Elston

Chief of staff and Senior Vice President for Strategy
Complete College America

Dr. Dhanfu E. Elston (pronounced: dah-nee-foo) serves as Complete College America’s Vice President of Strategy for Guided Pathways and Purpose First where he utilizes his campus expertise for practical application, implementation, and scaling of CCA strategies at institutions throughout the nation. He provides oversight of the Purpose First career choice grant, technology Seal of Approval, and scaling standards to close achievement gaps. Previously, he coordinated relationships with Governor’s Offices and higher education state-wide systems in their college completion efforts and spearheaded the national 15-To-Finish scale strategy. Recently, he launched a national initiative with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to amplify completion efforts at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Over two decades of his higher education career in academic and student affairs, Elston has created and implemented comprehensive success and retention programs that have garnered national attention. He has been recognized as an expert in college completion policy initiatives at institutions that educate highly diverse and underrepresented student populations. 

Prior to his current role with CCA, Dr. Elston held the position of Executive Director of Student Success and Transition at Purdue University Calumet. Under Elston’s leadership, Purdue Calumet (now Purdue Northwest) experienced exponential gains in first-year retention, graduation rates, and enrolled credit hours. In addition, enhancements made to campus-wide academic advisement processes led to the receipt of the EAB’s inaugural Data-Driven Impact Award for utilization of predictive analytics. 

Elston has also served Georgia State University, which is nationally recognized as a model for collegiate academic success, as the Assistant Director for Undergraduate Studies. Earlier in his career, he held positions in Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Georgia State and Clark Atlanta University where he led Greek Life, student activities, and leadership development functional areas. During his tenure at each institution, Dr. Elston held faculty appointments and was responsible for teaching and the development of first-year experience course curricula. 

Dr. Elston earned a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from Georgia State University where he conducted research in student retention, intercultural relations, learning communities, leadership development, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He earned both an M.A. in Educational Leadership and B.S. in Biology from Clark Atlanta University.  

Elston is a member of and has held leadership roles in numerous professional associations, including NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (past Chairperson of the African American Knowledge Community), Association of Fraternal & Leadership Values (Board Member), National Academic Advising Association, LeaderShape, Inc., American Educational Research Association, Golden Key International Honour Society, Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society. He is a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.