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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

Building a Movement to Implement Corequisite Models of Support in Illinois

Partnership for College Completion|$750,000|6/2023 - 6/2025
This grant supports the Partnership for College Completion in working with a cohort of Illinois colleges to implement developmental education reforms as required by the Developmental Education Reform Act passed by the state legislature in 2021. Partnership for College Completion will support institutions in designing and implementing multiple measures placement practices and building capacity for continuous improvement through data literacy and change management.

Advancing Equitable Outcomes through Leadership

North Carolina State University|$1,803,200|6/2021 - 5/2025
This grant supports North Carolina State University’s Belk Center for Community College Leadership in building capacity for presidents, senior teams and trustees of the state’s 58 community colleges. Learner-centered leadership development is needed to address structural barriers to student success and implement solutions that will achieve equitable outcomes for learners from low-income backgrounds.

From Opening Doors to Ushering In- Strategic Enrollment Management for Adult Learner Success

Achieving the Dream Inc|$670,000|12/2023 - 5/2025
This grant supports Achieving the Dream (ATD) in supporting five community colleges as they design and implement enrollment management plans focused on identifying, recruiting, and supporting the enrollment and success of adult learners. ATD will assist colleges in assessing the needs of potential adult learners in their regions, identifying strategies to enroll those learners, and implementing practices to ensure their success.

Modern Math Pathways for All Students

University of Texas at Austin|$1,100,000|5/2022 - 4/2025
This grant supports the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin in building capacity for large-scale mathematics reform in states that have not yet undertaken significant transformation.

Reducing Student Loss from Enrollment to Census: Improving Student Connectedness

Institute for Evidence-Based Change|$847,521|5/2023 - 4/2025
This grant supports the Institute for Evidence-Based Change in partnering with Alamo Colleges District to address early student attrition. The partners will engage faculty and staff to examine institutional data and student experiences to identify campus-level practices that may help retain students at risk of leaving prior to colleges' official enrollment count.

Redesigning Pathways for Adult College and Career Success

Achieving the Dream Inc|$600,000|3/2023 - 2/2025
This grant supports Achieving the Dream in partnering with Jobs for the Future to help nine community colleges across three states identify and implement practices and policies that drive adult learner success. Complementary capacity building for state system offices will help ensure alignment of policy to effective practice and support cross-state learning.

Strengthen and Scale Multiple Measures Assessment Implementation

MDRC|$2,300,000|12/2020 - 12/2024
This grant supports MDRC, in partnership with the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, in expanding the adoption of multiple measures assessment systems for student placement in math and English.

Paving the Way to Equitable, Adequate and Effective Community College Funding

Teachers College, Columbia University|$742,100|12/2021 - 12/2024
This grant supports the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University in executing a project designed to understand the costs of implementing evidence-based practices to support postsecondary success for learners from low-income backgrounds and students of color at two-year institutions. CCRC will use insights from the study to provide guidance to institutional leaders and state and system policymakers for advancing adequate and equitable funding strategies.

Equity Action Intensive

The National Association of System Heads|$200,000|12/2022 - 12/2024
This grant supports the National Association of System Heads in partnering with four to six state postsecondary systems to develop robust plans for improving equity in postsecondary outcomes for learners of color and learners from low-income backgrounds. Selected systems will conduct self-assessments, set concrete equity goals, receive expert technical assistance and initiate reforms.

Academic Planning for Equitable Student Success

American Association of State Colleges and Universities|$740,000|7/2023 - 12/2024
This grant supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in helping a cohort of 10-12 colleges analyze and optimize their course schedules for equitable student success.
View All Ascendium Grants

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