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How a Coalition of Nonprofit, Private Colleges Is Tackling Economic Inequity

September 11, 2023 2-minute read
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Although the vast majority of learners pursue postsecondary education in hopes of landing a good job, career advising is frequently limited and opportunities such as internships are often out of reach for learners from low-income backgrounds – many of whom work while attending college and can't afford to take on unpaid work. That’s where the Yes We Must Coalition (YWMC) comes in.

The YWMC is composed of nonprofit, private colleges and universities where at least 50% of undergraduates depend on Pell Grants to fund their education. As such, its institutions are committed to expanding access to postsecondary education and improving college graduation rates for learners from low-income backgrounds. There is evidence from the community college sector that guided pathways and supports for career-readiness keep more students on track to graduate and secure good-paying jobs. Now, with the help of a grant from Ascendium, YWMC will test whether four-year programs at private colleges and universities can successfully apply these strategies focused on career preparation and pathways to improve retention for students from low-income backgrounds.

Specifically, the three-year, $2.5 million grant will support the YWMC in helping nine  member institutions redesign one or two academic programs of study to strengthen connections for learners to jobs in those fields. The schools will begin by selecting programs with low retention rates for revision. The participating institutions are as follows.

  • American International College (MA)
  • Benedict College (SC)
  • Calumet College of St. Joseph (IN)
  • Mars Hill University (NC)
  • Mercy College (NY)
  • Saint Elizabeth University (NJ)
  • Trocaire College (NY)
  • Union College (KY)
  • Villa Maria College (NY)

The interventions introduced by this initiative have the potential for far-reaching implications. Specifically, they would help shift focus towards ways colleges that have a mission of a broad liberal arts education can still connect learners to jobs.

“This initiative from the Yes We Must Coalition will explore how four-year institutions can embrace strategies to connect their students to careers without compromising on their liberal arts mission,” says Keith Witham, Ascendium’s vice president of education philanthropy. This is one of several recent Ascendium grants, including ones to the Council of Independent Colleges and the Institute for Evidence-Based Change, that are focused on helping colleges build stronger supports for students to transition from college to career.

To learn more, visit the YWMC website.