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Remove Structural Barriers to Success

Our philanthropy focuses on reducing or eliminating institutional and systemic barriers for underrepresented postsecondary education learners so they can achieve their academic and career goals.

Students from low incomes learn on laptops.

How We See the Problem

Today’s learners often aren’t well served by the educational systems that were built years ago for more traditional students. Now students are often older, more diverse, working one or more jobs, raising families, and struggling to make ends meet.

Colleges and universities are complex, and often don’t have a student-centric approach to course offerings or availability, advising and other institutional policies. The problem shows in the equity gaps in completion rates: just 11% of low-income students graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Almost 6 times as many students — 58% overall — from higher-income households graduate.

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Our Three Investment Priorities

Grants to Remove Structural Barriers to Success

Ohio Strong Start in Science (OhioSSS)

Ohio Department of Higher Education|$3,000,000|3/2024 - 2/2028
This grant supports the Ohio Department of Higher Education in designing and implementing a corequisite model for entry-level science courses at 17 colleges and universities. Redesign efforts will focus on courses with disproportionately high failure rates for learners from low-income backgrounds, women, and learners of color who are underrepresented in high-demand STEM career fields.

Talent Strong Texas Pathways for Multilingual Learners of English

Texas Community College Education Initiative|$3,000,000|2/2024 - 12/2027
This grant supports the Texas Community College Education Initiative in aligning pathways from English as a Second Language (ESL) programs to community college credentials, including industry-based certifications, vocational certificates, and academic degrees. Texas community colleges will address placement and curricular structures that have been barriers to success for multilingual learners of English seeking to transition from ESL to workforce training or academic programs.

Innovations in Proactive Communication and Support for STEM Success

Brown University|$750,000|9/2023 - 8/2027
This grant supports the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University in assessing the impact of a tech-enabled, academic support innovation targeting students’ STEM gateway course success and persistence at Georgia State University.

Mobile-Enabled Learning Supports in Co-Requisite Courses in Louisiana

University of Texas at Austin|$1,865,800|5/2024 - 4/2027
This grant supports the University of Texas at Austin in evaluating the impact of a tech-enabled instructional innovation that provides personalized academic supports for learners enrolled in co-requisite developmental education courses at nine Louisiana colleges.

Strong Start to Finish - Accelerating Scaled Implementation

Education Commission of the States|$2,500,000|9/2022 - 12/2026
This grant supports Education Commission of the States, through its Strong Start to Finish initiative, in accelerating the implementation of complex developmental education reforms at scale in up to eight state higher education systems.

Accelerating Just Transformation in the Foundational Postsecondary Experience

John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education|$1,000,000|12/2022 - 6/2026
This grant supports the Gardner Institute, through the Accelerating Just Transformation in the Foundational Postsecondary Experience (TFPE) project, in working with cohorts of colleges with growing populations of first-generation, low-income and minoritized student populations to redesign the first-year student experience. TFPE will enable institutions to redesign practices that impede success for learners from low-income backgrounds and identify and act on targeted reforms to promote equitable student success.

Project Success Formative and Summative Assessment

Achieving the Dream Inc|$400,000|7/2023 - 6/2026
This grant supports Achieving the Dream in evaluating Project Success at its partner Tribal Colleges and Universities. The two-part assessment will provide critical lessons for Achieving the Dream, the participating institutions and the broader field on implementing student-facing practices.

Addressing Inequity in College Retention of Low-Income Students: Collaboratively Creating Pathways to Careers in Four-Year Degree Programs

Yes We Must Coalition|$2,500,000|6/2023 - 5/2026
This grant supports the Yes We Must Coalition in helping 10 member institutions adopt reforms to strengthen career advising and outcomes for learners. Participating institutions will redesign one to two bachelor's degree pathways to better connect learning with career opportunities in those fields of study.

Sustaining and Scaling Equitable Educational Practices

Tennessee Board of Regents-The College System of Tennessee |$1,456,400|5/2023 - 4/2026
This grant supports the Tennessee Board of Regents, the governing body for the College System of Tennessee, in scaling high impact practices and applying learning mindset research to create more supportive classrooms throughout the system.

Supporting Provosts for Student Success Transformation in State Systems

Sova Solutions|$1,773,700|9/2023 - 3/2026
This grant supports Sova, in partnership with the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, in accelerating institutional student success reforms in four states by aligning those reforms with state-level policy and creating a network of state teams to provide cross-state learning and support.
View All Ascendium Grants