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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.

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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

Accelerated Study in Association Programs-Ohio replication

MDRC|$5,000,000|9/2014 - 8/2019
This grant supports MDRC in implementing and evaluating a replication of the ASAP program model at three community colleges in Ohio to determine the scalability of the approach, one of the most effective interventions for increasing graduation rates among low-income community college students with developmental education needs.

Coaching Model Transformation

Achieving the Dream Inc|$1,000,000|8/2016 - 7/2019
This grant supports Achieving the Dream in transitioning its current coaching model to a customized coaching and strategic assistance service for community colleges seeking to increase student access and retention.

The Finish Line: Graduation by Design

MDRC|$911,349|5/2017 - 4/2019
This grant supports MDRC in designing, implementing and evaluating an intervention aimed at improving college completion by applying behavioral insights to increase the number of credits students complete each semester.

New Mathways Arkansas Scaling Project

The Charles A. Dana Center|$599,994|5/2016 - 4/2019
This grant supports the Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin in helping Arkansas colleges replace existing math education models with new pathways aligned to meet the requirements of a student’s program of study. The project will work at the state level to address policy and practice barriers while also equipping colleges for change.

Planning Grant for Guided Pathways Implementation in Iowa’s Community Colleges

Iowa Department of Education|$88,770|7/2018 - 3/2019
This grant supports the Iowa Department of Education in launching a planning phase for implementation of guided pathways at the state’s community colleges.

College Transition Collaborative Probation Toolkit

Stanford University |$66,111|7/2017 - 3/2019
This grant supports the College Transition Collaborative at Stanford University in developing a toolkit for revising academic probation notification letters in a way that destigmatizes the probation process and improves student academic and psychological outcomes.

Emergency Aid Administrator Handbook

Equal Measure|$176,000|7/2017 - 1/2019
This grant supports Equal Measure in developing resources to help colleges establish effective emergency aid award decision-making processes that integrate human judgements into program administration.

Accelerating Latino College Completion at Hispanic Serving Institutions

Excelencia in Education Inc|$750,000|8/2016 - 12/2018
This grant supports Excelencia in Education in accelerating the enrollment, retention, transfer and completion rates of Latino students attending Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Scaling Guided Pathways Reform in Ohio

Community College Research Center|$1,500,000|9/2016 - 10/2018
This grant supports the Community College Research Center in applying research and technical assistance to the on-going efforts by Ohio’s 23 two-year colleges to effectively and rapidly create guided pathways for students to postsecondary credentials and careers.

Completion Grant Replication Project

Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities|$250,500|8/2015 - 10/2018
This grant supports the replication of the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities completion grant project.
View All Ascendium Grants

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