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Our Grantmaking

Our four grantmaking focus areas support our continuing commitment to removing obstacles, so more learners from low-income backgrounds can achieve their academic and career goals.

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Our funding supports innovative ideas, the creation of an evidence base, and the expansion and replication of effective practices to spark sustainable, systemic improvement that create equitable opportunities for education and workforce training beyond high school.

Our Focus Areas

Remove Structural Barriers to Success

Postsecondary education institutions and systems are complex, and unintended obstacles sometimes emerge despite educators’ best efforts. Those obstacles tend to disproportionately affect learners with fewer social and financial resources.

We support efforts to identify replicable changes to system and institution policies and practices that can dismantle unnecessary barriers, not one learner at a time but for all learners from low-income backgrounds. By addressing stumbling blocks at their roots, we hope to help institutions increase completion rates and shorten the time it takes learners to obtain a credential – so that low-income students have the same opportunity for upward socio-economic mobility.

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Streamline Key Learner Transitions

Navigating workforce training systems, transferring between institutions, and entering or reentering the workforce are pivotal moments in a learner's academic and career journey. Institutional and system policies and practices can inadvertently make these transitions more difficult than they need to be.

We support initiatives aimed at smoothing transitions through better data sharing; improved collaboration across two- and four-year postsecondary institutions and systems; and more effective processes for aligning educational and workforce training programs with labor market demand.

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Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

While there are a number of postsecondary education in prison programs across the country, insufficient attention has been paid to program quality and effective service delivery. Research has demonstrated that postsecondary education can dramatically improve the odds of successful reentry into the community and the labor force. But access to higher education services in prison is rare; where it does exist, the quality is often questionable, and programming may be disconnected from career opportunities.

We fund initiatives that can help the field better understand what types of postsecondary education in prison programs are effective, how to forge the partnerships necessary to get them in place, and how to spread and sustain best practices on a broad scale in order to catalyze genuine large-scale change.

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Support Rural Postsecondary Education and Workforce Training

Significant, persistent urban-rural disparities in postsecondary success exist from enrollment through completion. Those disparities contribute to a shortage of skilled, qualified workers, which discourages businesses from starting or staying in rural communities.

We support efforts that can help the field better understand rural learners and postsecondary providers, strengthen those providers, and improve collaboration and partnership to support rural learners from enrollment to workforce entry.

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Our Grantmaking Process


Ascendium awards grants to organizations with aligned missions who are focused on exploring, validating, or scaling solutions to clearly defined barriers in postsecondary education and workforce training systems.


Ascendium is headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, but our reach is nationwide. We support organizations working across the U.S. that are committed to changing systems at local, state, and national levels.

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We fund initiatives at every stage of development, from promising but untested practices to proven approaches ready to be brought to scale. To succeed, initiatives need support at every stage.

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