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How We Fund

Ascendium supports research organizations, colleges, workforce training providers and large-scale initiatives that share a common goal: overcoming the academic, financial and social barriers to postsecondary education. But we’re more than a source of funding dollars. We strive to be a true thought partner, building collaborative, problem-solving relationships with grantees.

A Three-Pronged Funding Approach

At Ascendium, we recognize the value of mold-breaking ideas, and the challenges that even the most effective programs face when it’s time to share knowledge and expand. To succeed, initiatives need support at every stage. So we invest in a pipeline of approaches, from untested ideas to promising results that need to be evaluated to proven strategies that deserve to grow: 

Exploration grants are limited-term projects designed to help us and our partners learn more about promising innovations.

For example:
ASU Local: We awarded Arizona State University a $1.5 million grant to test a model for providing underserved young adults in Los Angeles with a clear and affordable path to a bachelor’s degree. This project is exploring a model for serving students who are academically qualified for college but don’t have a spot at a four-year institution. This initiative combines the scalability of a partially online learning environment with local supports to ensure the success of its learners—many of whom are first generation college students, a group that historically has not been served well by a purely online experience. Local supports, include coaches who work in person with the students around challenges and skills in both college and life, and opportunities to interact directly with professionals in real-world settings.

Validation grants support independent evaluations to help build the body of evidence to support ideas that merit acceptance as standard practice.

For example: 
Implementing and Evaluating Caring Campus Faculty Engagement: In 2018 the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) launched Caring Campus, a program that aims to promote student success by cultivating stronger connections between students and staff. Caring Campus started in a couple of California regions, then expanded to community colleges across the country with the help of funding from Ascendium. In 2019, we provided a $1.7 million grant to support IEBC in building on that success by implementing the program with faculty at 14 community colleges. The funding also supports an evaluation by the Community College Research Center to assess the impact on students, faculty, staff and the institutions overall.

Want Ascendium to fund your impact evaluation? Read our Guidance for Validation Grant Applications Proposing Impact Evaluations.

Scaling grants support the widespread adoption of successful, evidence-based approaches leading to meaningful systemic transformation.

For example: 
Strong Start to Finish Implementation & Innovation Fund: This $2 million grant supports Education Commission of the States (ECS) in amplifying the impact and reach of Strong Start to Finish (SSTF), a national initiative funded by Ascendium since 2016, in partnership with The Kresge Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative’s primary focus is to help colleges increase the number of students who complete college-level math and English courses in their first year. The unique pooled funding approach enables SSTF to work at scale in six state systems. Our grant—part of a $5.4 million new investment from the three funders—allows ECS to spur innovation in equity-centered research, practice and policy; provide technical assistance around emergent needs to those six states; and advise other state systems interested in replicating the reforms.

Hear From Our Grant Partners

The Center for Effective Philanthropy surveyed our grant partners and applicants: Ascendium got high marks for responsiveness, approachability and transparency.

Contact a Program Officer

Learn more about our collaborative approach and connect with an expert who has grantmaking experience in your field.

Meet Our Team

Find Funding

Review Ascendium’s current funding opportunities, including open calls for proposals and other grant announcements.

See Current Opportunities