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Support Rural Postsecondary Education and Workforce Training

Our philanthropy elevates rural postsecondary education and workforce training, long absent from education reform efforts.

See Grants in This Focus Area
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How We See the Problem

Disparities in postsecondary success between rural students and their urban and suburban peers exist at every point in the pipeline, from enrollment to completion. These disparities contribute to a shortage of skilled, qualified workers, which affects the economic health of both families and entire communities.

Ascendium’s Approach

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.


Outcomes we seek

The efforts we fund are broad, system-changing initiatives, so the outcomes we seek are broad as well: advancement of a rural research agenda; data infrastructure that allows data sharing, tracking and reporting; more postsecondary providers implementing evidence-based best practices to support student success; researcher and peer partnerships at the systems level.

How we work

We fund initiatives that develop collaborative, sustainable systems and best practices for system change along the postsecondary education and workforce spectrum. This means collaboration between researchers, funders, postsecondary providers and employers, supported with research, data systems, professional development and opportunities to connect with others regionally and nationally.

We also fund efforts that develop and support postsecondary education and employment pathways. This means supporting postsecondary programs of study aligned with community needs, building provider capacity to support students as they navigate those systems, and expanding job training models for high demand fields to ensure successful postsecondary to career transition.

Grants to Support Rural Postsecondary Education and Workforce Training

Catalyzing Rural Community Colleges Through a Design Challenge

Education Design Lab|$1,996,925|4/2020 - 6/2023
This grant supports Education Design Lab in executing a three-year design challenge to develop and pilot new solutions to the question: “How might we improve the ability of rural community colleges to be a critical engine (or catalyst) of growth in their local communities?” Education Design Lab will partner with five rural community colleges to collaboratively structure, design, and evaluate new programs.

Building Pathways to Quality Jobs and Financial Security in Rural America

Local Initiatives Support Corporation |$1,302,077|5/2020 - 5/2023
This grant supports 11 communities in the Local Initiative Support Corporation’s Rural Works initiative, a national network of workforce intermediaries committed to modernizing and redeveloping pathways from postsecondary education and training to employment.

Supporting Rural Island-Based Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Students

Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholars|$144,400|5/2020 - 10/2020
This grant supports Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholars in preparing for a comprehensive mixed-method study focused on rural Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students and the rural institutions serving them.

Improving Workforce Outcomes for Community College Students

Social Finance|$180,000|2/2020 - 7/2020
This grant supports Social Finance in assessing strategies and approaches that workforce entities (including employers and workforce training providers) have used to establish successful partnerships with community colleges. The goals of this project are to identify effective strategies for developing employer partnerships that lead to long-term success for community college students, explore opportunities for sustainable and performance-based funding models for these partnerships and to highlight best practices and lessons for rural communities.

Rural Postsecondary Education Project

R Street Institute|$50,000|5/2019 - 3/2020
This grant supports R Street Institute in conducting a rural postsecondary education and workforce landscape scan, highlighting relevant data, funders and programmatic efforts.

Ascendium-Sponsored Practitioner Fellowships

Wisconsin School Counselor Association|$38,495|11/2019 - 3/2020
This grant supports the attendance of 45 school counselors and Academic and Career Planning coordinators from rural areas of Wisconsin at the Wisconsin School Counselors Association (WSCA) 2020 Annual Conference. WSCA will convene Fellows at a reception during the conference, and will collect and share their reflections afterward.

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