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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: the 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; and 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. 

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.

Researching and Awarding Excellence in Rural Community Colleges

Aspen Institute Inc|$2,624,131|5/2020 - 4/2023
The grant supports the Aspen Institute in researching and awarding the 2021 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and the development of a new suite of curricular resources to advance student success at rural community colleges.

Launching West Virginia Climbs

Philanthropy West Virginia|$750,000|6/2020 - 6/2022
This grant supports Philanthropy West Virginia’s efforts in building the infrastructure of West Virginia Climbs, a new public awareness and programming campaign aimed at increasing the state’s postsecondary educational attainment rate to at least 60 percent by 2030. The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and other partners will support the implementation activities needed to complete five activities targeted at supporting learners from low-income backgrounds.

Researching Place-based Learning Experiences' Impact on Rural Postsecondary Learners

University of Montana|$221,202|6/2020 - 5/2022
This grant supports the University of Montana in researching the impact of place-based learning at postsecondary institutions on student outcomes and achievement. Building on promising research in secondary systems, rural place-based learning focuses on integrating local and regional cultures, history, and resources into school programming in an effort to promote student success and engagement.

College and Student Success in Rural Communities

University of Wisconsin-Madison|$191,765|6/2020 - 9/2021
This grant supports the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Student Success Through Applied Research Lab in completing an analysis of demographic shifts in rural communities and college enrollment trends in rural places facing the greatest demographic shifts. This research will uncover new insights into rural college opportunity and access and will help education leaders and other stakeholders identify practical ways colleges can successfully navigate and respond to these increasing demographic challenges.

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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