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Keith Witham Reflects on His First Six Months as Vice President of Education Philanthropy

September 27, 2023
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Keith Witham, Vice President - Education Philanthropy

As I hit the six-month mark in the role of vice president of education philanthropy, I continue to be humbled by both the great work our grant partners are accomplishing on behalf of learners from low-income backgrounds and the important work to be done.

2023 has been a momentous year for postsecondary education, with decisions from the Supreme Court on student loan forgiveness and affirmative action, as well as the impending restart of federal student loan payments. We have yet to see the full impact of these events, but they collectively underscore the importance of Ascendium’s mission to ensure all learners can benefit from the transformative power of postsecondary education and workforce training.

Our team has been especially focused on responding to the significant new opportunities that have emerged this year. One example: The reinstatement in July of Pell Grant eligibility for learners enrolled in prison education, which opens the door for thousands of additional incarcerated learners to access high-quality postsecondary education. Another area of opportunity is the federal investments in infrastructure, green energy, and high-tech manufacturing, which will create good jobs for those with the requisite skill and training. For both important policy measures to result in real opportunity for all learners will require intentional efforts working across sectors and centering equity. We will continue to focus our funding in support of those efforts.

The next six months will be busy ones for Ascendium’s philanthropy, as we head into a refresh of our strategic goals and priorities and create the blueprint for the impact we hope to achieve over the next five to ten years. Even as we embark on this refresh, we know some things won’t change. We’ll remain committed to advancing opportunity and removing barriers both in traditional college pathways and through diverse workforce training aligned to good jobs. We’ll also maintain our explicit commitments to the success of incarcerated learners, rural learners, and others for whom education and training after high school is the surest path to economic success. I look forward to emerging from our strategy refresh with renewed clarity about the outcomes we seek and a strong theory of change for how Ascendium’s philanthropy can best contribute to them.