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EDUCATION PHILANTHROPY DIVISION OF ASCENDIUM EDUCATION GROUP

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2021 Education Philanthropy Report

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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focus area page Structural

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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Ascendium's Approach

An investment priority to…

Create conditions for institutional and system readiness for learner success reforms

Means we support…

  • Identifying misaligned policies and practices that reduce the efficacy of learner success reforms
  • Developing learner-centered postsecondary leaders in roles across institutions and systems

Which will lead to…

  • Networks of institutions and systems achieving more equitable learner outcomes
  • Networks and systems better understanding the financial impacts of learner success reforms
  • Leadership development that contributes to equitable student success

An investment priority to…

Support the development and evaluation of promising approaches and interventions to increase completion rates and decrease time to degree

Means we support…

  • Seeding the exploration of innovative ideas
  • Conducting mixed methods evaluations to determine the efficacy and scalability of interventions

Which will lead to…

  • Creation of evidence supporting reforms that lead to more equitable learner outcomes
  • Stakeholders having a better understanding of what works to drive equitable learner outcomes

An investment priority to…

Support the widespread adoption of evidence-based institutional and system policies and practices that drive equitable student outcomes

Means we support…

  • Scaling effective practices that ensure leaners complete degrees or credentials without excess credits
  • Enhancing data infrastructure to maximize its use for decision making and information sharing

Which will lead to…

  • Institutions adopting developmental education reforms at scale
  • More learners enrolling in and completing gateway courses during their first year
  • Institutions prioritizing course availability and advising in a way that decreases time to degree and unnecessary credit accumulation

Grants to Remove Structural Barriers to Success

Strong Start to Finish

Scaling
Education Commission of the States|$4,500,000|4/2017 - 12/2021
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.

Multiple Measures Assessment Phase II

Validation
MDRC|$1,484,745|2/2018 - 12/2021
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.

Caring Campus

Exploration
Institute for Evidence-Based Change|$1,000,000|1/2019 - 12/2021
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.

Strengthening Completion Pathways and Ensuring Students are Learning

Exploration
American Association of Colleges and Universities|$866,939|1/2019 - 10/2021
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.

Math Initiative

Scaling
University of Wisconsin System|$2,300,000|1/2018 - 10/2021
This grant supports the University of Wisconsin System in helping its colleges increase completion of math gateway courses. The colleges will collaborate on improving developmental math offerings and establish new pathways that are aligned and developed concurrently with meta-majors.

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.

Applying the Evidence: Expanding Evidence-Based Strategies Across the Minnesota State System

Scaling
MDRC|$519,870|5/2019 - 6/2021
This grant supports MDRC and the Minnesota State System in promoting campus transformation by providing workshops and coaching on implementing multiple measures assessment, promoting summer enrollment, and understanding the impact of practices and policy around Satisfactory Academic Progress.

Completion Grants

Scaling
University Innovation Alliance|$1,999,998|8/2017 - 6/2021
This grant supports the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) in developing, piloting, and integrating retention programs at each of the 11 UIA member campuses. The funding assists students who are approaching graduation but face financial hurdles restricting their ability to enroll, persist and complete their postsecondary education.

Opportunities in Building and Applying Evidence for Student Success

Scaling
University of Notre Dame|$98,396|12/2019 - 6/2021
This grant supports the Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame in convening practitioners, researchers and policymakers to develop a shared understanding of the research on student advising and counseling. Six rigorously evaluated programs, including Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, will be examined to develop policy recommendations on how to build and apply this evidence base to improve student outcomes more widely.

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.

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