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EDUCATION PHILANTHROPY DIVISION OF ASCENDIUM EDUCATION GROUP

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.

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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.

Ascendium’s Approach

We support efforts identifying replicable changes to policies and practices that can dismantle unnecessary obstacles at the system and institutional levels.  We support efforts to engage diverse change agents in institutional transformation. We also support the adoption of institutional, systemwide, policies that set up learners for success.

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Outcomes We Seek

Our system-level funding fuels system-level outcomes we hope to achieve. By fostering leadership development across a spectrum of roles, we seek to prioritize student success and institutional change. We hope to help institutions and systems understand the financial impact of student success reforms, including adopting developmental education reform at scale to ensure learners are taking credit-bearing courses in their first year; ensuring more students enroll and complete gateway courses in their first year; prioritizing course availability so learners can enroll in courses they need when they need them; supporting entering learners’ end goals by helping them choose and enter a pathway; and helping institutions support learners through a strong advising process.

How we work

We fund initiatives that help remove barriers to student success. This means professional development for student-centered, postsecondary leaders in various roles, from front-line staff to institutional researchers to senior leadership and boards. It means the refinement of institutional policies and practices to better set learners up for success and funding of efforts to support a timely progression to a degree or credential. It also means expanding data infrastructure and information sharing between institutions and systems.

Grants to Remove Structural Barriers to Success

Bringing to Scale and Measuring the Effects of Guided Pathways Reforms by Ohio’s Community Colleges

Validation
Teachers College, Columbia University|$1,910,223|11/2018 - 10/2021
This grant supports Teachers College at Columbia University in studying and disseminating learnings from the implementation of guided pathways reforms at Ohio’s public two-year institutions.

Piloting an Income Share Agreement that Serves Low-Income Students

Exploration
MDRC|$1,000,000|9/2019 - 8/2021
This grant supports MDRC in assessing the operational feasibility of an Income Share Agreement (ISA) structured to lead to stronger outcomes for students from low-income backgrounds. Education Finance Institute will raise private capital to fund ISAs for up to 200 students attending five to seven pilot colleges.

Strengthening Completion Pathways and Ensuring Students are Learning

Exploration
Association of American Colleges & Universities|$866,939|1/2019 - 8/2021
This grant supports the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in creating resources and tools to assist institutions that are implementing guided pathways reforms at scale. AAC&U is working with 20 community colleges to field test a framework for ensuring student learning on a program pathway.

Strategic Finance and Student Completion Planning Grant

Exploration
National Association of College and University Business Officers|$1,158,288|5/2020 - 7/2021
This grant supports the National Association of College and University Business Officers in creating a community of practice among leading college and university chief financial officers. The resulting network will be poised to conduct research, implementation and dissemination of strategic finance models that drive equitable
student success.

Multiple Measures Assessment Phase II

Validation
MDRC|$1,484,745|2/2018 - 4/2021
This grant supports MDRC in evaluating whether the use of multiple measures assessment to determine student readiness for college-level math increases successful completion of gateway college math courses.

Adult Learner 360 Academy: Hispanic Serving Institutions

Scaling
Council for Adult and Experiential Learning|$1,288,950|5/2018 - 4/2021
This grant supports the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning in developing a process for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) to implement new policies and practices to drive better enrollment, persistence and completion among adult students. A cohort of 10 HSIs will develop and implement data-driven, adult-learner focused improvement plans and produce and disseminate case studies describing measurable changes.

Caring Campus

Exploration
Institute for Evidence-Based Change|$1,000,000|1/2019 - 4/2021
This grant supports the Institute for Evidence Based Change in cultivating caring campus environments to increase student retention. The project seeks to produce an adaptable framework for including campus staff in student success reform efforts.

Strong Start to Finish

Scaling
Education Commission of the States|$4,500,000|4/2017 - 3/2021
This grant supports a managed pool of funds that will be used to scale change at the state and institutional levels enabling more students from historically underrepresented groups to complete credit-bearing courses and enter a program of study by the end of their first year in college. The project, Strong Start to Finish, is co-funded with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Kresge Foundation and coordinated by Education Commission of the States.

Improving Student Success through Holistic Student Support Redesign

Scaling
Arkansas Community Colleges|$650,000|9/2018 - 1/2021
This grant supports Arkansas Community Colleges in creating thoughtful and sustainable changes to the student advising systems so that students are better served academically and supported on their paths to completing a postsecondary credential.

Ascendium-Sponsored Practitioner Fellowships

Scaling
Achieving the Dream Inc|$50,000|5/2019 - 12/2020
This grant supports attendance of at least 20 community college leaders as fellows at the 2019 Achieving the Dream (ATD) Data & Analytics Summit, September 11-13, 2019 and Holistic Student Supports Institute, October 1-4, 2019. ATD will also collect and share the fellows' reflections on their practical next steps and anticipated challenges in implementing their learnings.
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