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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.

Learners from rural community training together.

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.

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A Guide for Research on Rural Postsecondary Education

One of our investment priorities is to support research to better understand rural learners and postsecondary providers. As part of our work in this area, we partnered with Sova to convene a diverse group of researchers and organizations to develop a national rural postsecondary research agenda. This research agenda lays the groundwork for applied research collaborations that will generate knowledge to help practitioners and policymakers remove systemic barriers faced by rural learners, particularly those from low-income backgrounds.

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Building Evidence to Increase Rural Learner Success

Ascendium is committed to advancing evidence-based research that supports equitable improvements in postsecondary education and workforce outcomes for rural learners. Through this grant opportunity, we will invest in research that generates actionable knowledge, yields evidence-based insights and supports practitioners and policymakers in scaling effective approaches to removing systemic barriers uniquely faced by rural learners.

Our Three Investment Priorities

Grants to Support Rural Postsecondary Education and Workforce Training

Building Evidence to Increase Rural Learner Success

North Carolina State University|$490,200|3/2023 - 2/2026
This grant supports North Carolina State University in investigating the effectiveness of its statewide Rural College Leaders Program in contributing to student success reforms.

Building Evidence to Increase Rural Learner Success

Urban Institute |$500,000|3/2023 - 2/2026
This grant supports the Urban Institute in refining and testing the Family Friendly Campus Toolkit, which helps institutions better serve parenting students, to fit the context of rural tribal colleges and universities.

Building Evidence to Increase Rural Learner Success

Georgia State University Research Foundation Inc|$500,000|3/2023 - 2/2026
This grant supports Georgia State University in evaluating the impact of a statewide online instruction initiative on the enrollment, completion and employment outcomes of rural learners.

Building Evidence to Increase Rural Learner Success

University of Idaho|$499,600|3/2023 - 2/2026
This grant supports the University of Idaho in examining which institutional programs and practices—including first-year programs, career advising and other strategies—may best support retention, completion and successful transition to the workforce for rural learners from low-income backgrounds.

Supporting Competency-Based Teacher Education in Tennessee

University of Tennessee|$1,838,160|12/2023 - 12/2025
This grant supports the University of Tennessee's Grow Your Own Center in enabling postsecondary institutions to launch competency-based teacher apprenticeship programs that reach rural regions and learners throughout the state. Through the launch of the Institute for Competency-Based Teacher Education, postsecondary institutions will have access to standardized, competency-based materials and assessments that will ensure more rural learners can engage in and complete apprenticeship-based degree programs that provide a pathway to teaching jobs in rural school districts.

Advancing Digital Skilling in Rural America

Center on Rural Innovation Inc|$1,331,200|12/2022 - 12/2025
This grant supports the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) in building pathways to tech employment for learners from low-income backgrounds in rural communities. This investment will help six communities in CORI’s Rural Innovation Network to identify tech employment needs among local employers and design and implement tech training programs designed to meet the needs of rural learners and local employers.

Launching Civic Sector Apprenticeships in Rural Communities

The Council of State Governments|$693,800|9/2022 - 8/2025
This grant supports the Council of State Governments and the Urban Institute in working with state and local governments and public sector employers in Maine and Idaho to implement apprenticeship programs targeted to learners from low-income backgrounds. New apprenticeships will provide paid training and onramps to good civic sector jobs that are currently experiencing a shortage of qualified workers in rural communities.

Building the Data Capacity of Rural Postsecondary Institutions

WestEd|$937,000|12/2022 - 5/2025
This grant supports WestEd in providing customized support to rural community colleges to help them improve institutional research and data use capabilities, and in the application of those capabilities for federal grant applications and institutional planning efforts. The grant will support up to 20 rural-located/serving institutions—including tribal colleges—and provide an additional 20 colleges with customized coaching.

Bringing Value-Based Bachelor's Degrees to Rural Community College Students

New America Foundation|$1,100,000|5/2022 - 5/2025
This grant supports New America Foundation in building capacity at community colleges to create high-quality, affordable and workforce-driven baccalaureate programs. Community college baccalaureate programs provide new or expanded access to in-demand sectors, particularly for underserved populations such as adult learners and learners from low-income backgrounds in rural areas.

Advancing the Economic Mobility of Rural Learners

Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives Foundation|$1,342,200|9/2022 - 2/2025
This grant supports the Association of Chambers of Commerce Executives Foundation in working with up to 12 rural chambers of commerce to learn how to bring local community partners together to provide rural learners and workers from low-income backgrounds with the training needed to access well-paying, high-demand jobs.