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Maintain Momentum Supports Community Colleges of Appalachia in New Rural Educators Academy

November 11, 2021 4-minute read
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In July 2020, Ascendium launched the $10 million Maintain Momentum for Student Success Initiative, which supports postsecondary education membership organizations and networks as they grapple with financial challenges brought on by the COVID-19 health crisis. Maintain Momentum provides flexible funding for these organizations to respond to urgent challenges. Funds have been used to pivot to an all-virtual delivery of member services and programs. They’ve also been used to provide subsidized membership dues to member institutions that serve a large percentage of learners from low-income backgrounds. This month, we’re welcoming a new Maintain Momentum grant partner and checking in with two early grant partners to highlight some successes.

New Partner in Appalachia

The Community Colleges of Appalachia, an association of 86 member institutions ranging from Upstate New York to northern Mississippi, will receive $475,000 in support over two years to design and pilot a new Rural Educator Academy. The academy is an expansion of the ongoing professional development support services the association provides member institutions through its annual and fall conferences. The academy’s two-track design will include  programming for faculty and staff on understanding the unique challenges of rural student success in Appalachia and an academy for college leaders on enacting systemic change.

Community Colleges of Appalachia member institutions work with students facing challenges common to the region, including high poverty and low college participation and graduation rates. In normal times, these factors limit social and economic mobility. The COVID-19 health crisis has greatly magnified these inequities and brought urgency to the need for solutions.

“The support of our new partners at Ascendium affords us the necessary resources to help us expand our professional development reach to faculty and staff in our member colleges,” remarked Dr. Kevin Boys, current board chair of the college association. “We are so pleased that Ascendium shares our vision for improving outcomes among our students in Appalachia. We look forward to partnering with them toward achieving this vision.”

Current Partner Successes

The Yes We Must Coalition represents private nonprofit institutions whose enrollment of Pell Grant-eligible students is 50% or greater. Maintain Momentum support starting in October 2020 allowed the coalition to subsidize members’ dues and support them in putting the needs of low-income students first as they shifted to remote learning driven by the COVID-19 health crisis.

“Our continued membership in the Yes We Must Coalition provided much-needed connection with other colleagues struggling through similar circumstances,” said Catherine Bishop, assistant provost for student success at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. “Yes We Must does such an important service by connecting like-minded institutions doing the important work of supporting and graduating low-income students. The grant funding provided by Ascendium allowed Augsburg to maintain this important membership during a critical time for the institution.”

Besides providing dues subsidies for Yes We Must members, Maintain Momentum support also enabled discussions on a number of critical topics brought into sharp relief by COVID-19, including:

  • How to address student attrition and broader discussions about the structural racial and economic inequities built into their institutions.
  • The need for disaggregated, longitudinal data to inform decisions about needed change.
  • Ways to make policy and structural changes to increase adult degree completion, make credit for prior learning more accessible and ensure justice in criminal justice programs.

Maintain Momentum support in July 2020 allowed the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) to fully pivot from traditional in-person programming to a virtual format. This move had the unexpected impact of driving record attendance at its annual meeting and academic affairs winter meeting.  

The initiative allowed AASCU to deploy several new virtual collaboration and communication tools and subsidize membership dues and program costs for nearly 150 campuses that serve a high percentage of low-income learners, which had positive ripple effects. Seventy percent of participants in AASCU’s Emerging Leaders Program were from campuses receiving Ascendium support, as were 40% of participants in the organization’s other meetings, trainings and convenings in the past year.

Ascendium acknowledges the essential role postsecondary education membership organizations and networks play in advancing our goal of driving systemic change — change that leads to increased success for low-income learners. We hope the support provided through our Maintain Momentum initiative leads to lasting change for years to come.