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The Power of Media to Advance Change for Learners

February 2, 2023 2-minute read
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Achieving our philanthropic mission requires building awareness and urgency around persistent barriers and promising solutions to postsecondary education and workforce training. Media plays an important role by bringing issues and successes to light through storytelling. Ascendium partners with highly experienced media sources like The Hechinger Report and Open Campus to advance the stories important to making system-level changes that help learners from low-income backgrounds succeed. The following are two examples of stories they produced during our partnership on topics critical to these learners which led to positive outcomes at scale.

The Hechinger Report is an award-winning news outlet whose reporting connects what’s happening in postsecondary education to broader trends and systemic problems that span the country. A partner since 2021, their reporting has had a real impact on removing structural barriers for the learners our grantmaking supports. For example, the Hechinger Report’s Hidden Debt Trap series in 2021 explored the practice of withholding transcripts and degrees for unpaid student debt and put faces and personal stories to the 6.6 million learners who were unable to formally complete degrees for having unpaid bills. The coverage contributed to efforts to stop or limit the practice in Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and beyond, thus removing a critical stumbling block for learners from low-income backgrounds in achieving their postsecondary education goals.

Our partnership with Open Campus also began in 2021. Their unique model leverages national newsroom subject matter expertise in partnership with community newsrooms, who have nuanced knowledge of context. This results in local stories with national impact. Their newsletters have become go-to resources for understanding the issues that impact the lives of both rural and incarcerated learners. For example, the newsletter College Inside connects the voices of incarcerated learners with those on the outside to highlight how policies affect this population. College Inside author Charlotte West’s reporting resulted in the Student Borrower Protection Center’s recommendation that a validated 1-800 number be established for incarcerated learners to call to avoid student loan default and get information about postsecondary education opportunities.

Ascendium has a broad array of complementary media partnerships that elevate the work of our partners and lead important conversations about the issues we care about. Our partners include news outlets, podcasts, documentary films, books and beyond. Through media, we can reach people who can make or advocate for changes that help communities and the nation thrive. According to Brett Lindquist, vice president – strategic communications, “Media partnerships are an important way we accomplish our mission. The steady flow of insights and information between all stakeholders helps drive new ideas and innovations.”