Meeting the Moment
As we see continued rapid change — social, economic, political, demographic and technological — the investments we make must meet the demands and opportunities of the pivotal moments that result. Our grantmaking in response to the moments from the past year will yield benefits for learners from low-income backgrounds for years to come.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways that Ascendium is meeting the moments of 2022.
Shifting research to better meet the knowledge needs of decision-makers.
Ascendium's Learning and Impact team helps us make better research grants that support improved decision-making by practitioners, policymakers and philanthropists. Through building and sharing actionable evidence, we provide stakeholders with the information they need to ultimately change practices, policies and programs that inhibit the success of learners from low-income backgrounds.
Refining our grantmaking strategy to fund work that pushes progress in solving problems in key areas.
We understand we have a lot to discover about the most significant challenges that learners from low-income backgrounds face and how to optimize impact in addressing those challenges. We continue to use our findings to refine and narrow our investment priorities in each focus area.
Evolving and growing our team to support the expansion of our grantmaking.
By evolving and growing our team, we can better support the increase in the volume of our grantmaking, best serve our grant partners and design and implement large-scale initiatives targeting the most persistent barriers to success for low-income learners.
The Moments Shaping
At Ascendium, we hold firm to the belief that the power of education and training beyond high school is transformative. Postsecondary education and workforce training continue to be the most effective way for learners to achieve upward mobility. The benefits of that extend far beyond the individual as well.
Our belief is clearly reflected in our grantmaking efforts each year, and in 2022, we awarded $122 million in new grants. Through our grantmaking, we are driven by exploring innovative ideas, building an evidence base and scaling effective practices so that more learners from low-income backgrounds can achieve their education and career goals.
By itself, this is important and challenging work. When you layer in the constantly changing world around us, all involved have an even greater task and responsibility to meet the moments in front of us.
The aftermath of the COVID-19 health crisis is certainly one such moment, which has continued to surface inequities for learners, especially those from low-income backgrounds. For example, data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center shows that fewer students successfully transferred from community colleges to four-year institutions during the health crisis. We will continue to support future systems change to help these transferring learners complete their degrees.
Additionally, we are in a moment as a nation where significant investments and policy changes at the federal level are creating both opportunity and urgency for our grant partners. One example is the reinstatement of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated learners coming in July 2023. Our grantmaking supports partners like Jobs for the Future and the Vera Institute of Justice in their work to build the field's readiness to serve these learners when they gain renewed access to critical financial aid resources to support their journey through postsecondary education in prison.
Ascendium is grateful for our partnerships to advance equitable education and workforce training outcomes for learners from low-income backgrounds. I continue to be impressed by our grant partners and the critical work they perform in a rapidly changing world to ensure all learners can find a path to upward mobility. We look to the future with excitement and optimism, knowing their work has the potential to make a lasting, positive impact on the learners of today and tomorrow.
Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer
Ascendium Education Group
Highlighting Our Grantmaking in 2022
Take a look at some of this year’s grants. These grants represent our support for the evolving needs of learners from low-income backgrounds. Visit ascendiumphilanthropy.org for a comprehensive list of all our grants.
No Holding Back: Using Data to Review and Revise Administrative Policies Among Postsecondary Institutions
Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education
Develops tools to evaluate the impact of administrative hold policies on equitable student success.
Advancing Community College Students’ Post-Graduation Success
The Aspen Institute
Implements reforms at 10 community colleges to increase the post-graduation success of learners from low-income backgrounds.
Supporting Career Pathways for Low-Income Rural Immigrants, Migrants and Refugees
Jobs for the Future
Supports subgrants and a community of practice among 10 rural-serving organizations to enhance workforce training offerings for immigrants and refugees.
Enhancing and Expanding the Transfer Explorer Tool
Ithaka Harbors, Inc.
Helps transfer students apply prior credits to reduce cost and time-to-degree as they move from two-year to four-year institutions.
AA-to-BA Transfer Apprenticeship Pathway for Rural Talent
Reach Institute for School Leadership
Supports opportunities for rural learners to access bachelor’s degree pathways that prepare them for in-demand teaching jobs in their communities.
Helping the Field Prepare for Pell Reinstatement
Vera Institute of Justice
Provides training and advising to Second Chance Pell institutions before the full restoration of Pell Grants for incarcerated learners in July 2023.
Scaling Academic Recovery Interventions
University Innovation Alliance
Scales a package of intensive supports to help learners who must retake critical courses due to life barriers, including the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 health crisis.
NEW GRANTS FURTHERING SYSTEMS CHANGE
Helping Students Stay on Track
While the proportion of U.S. high school graduates attending college has risen in recent years, the completion rates for institutions with high populations of learners from low-income backgrounds have not kept pace. Part of the challenge lies in the availability of and access to resources to help students...Read More
Lifting Working Adults Through Flexible Training for In-Demand Careers
Increasingly, diverse postsecondary education and training options exist outside traditional degree programs. One example is Merit America’s short-term, fully virtual IT training for low-wage adults without a bachelor’s degree.Read More
Seizing a Historic Moment for Incarcerated Learners
With the restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated learners slated for summer 2023, questions remain. Are program providers ready for an influx of new students? Does the infrastructure exist to maximize this new funding and share best practices?Read More
Strengthening Career Pathways by Connecting Rural Learners and Leaders
While many rural communities faced severe economic downturns during the Great Recession and, more recently, the COVID-19 health crisis, there are still many good jobs available in rural areas.Read More
Elevating Partner and Learner Information Through Strategic Media Partnerships
Addressing tough challenges for learners from low-income backgrounds can’t happen without teamwork. Ascendium’s media partnerships recognize the power of storytelling in fostering engagement, innovation and collaboration in the field to support student success. To this end, our partners use multiple media formats to showcase how system-level changes can impact learners in meaningful ways.
This year, we formed new partnerships with news outlets, podcasters, film producers and more. Each brings the power of media to the work being done in our focus areas. Read more about a few of our new partners.
- Academic Intelligence (AI) produces the “Future U.” podcast, hosted and produced by two award-winning experts in postsecondary education. Ascendium is supporting the production of twenty “Future U.” podcasts this season that highlight postsecondary education initiatives and resources supporting student success.
- Open Campus is a nonprofit news organization that gathers national and local experts to produce multi-perspective reporting on issues in postsecondary education. With our support, two dedicated national reporters are partnering with local networks to bring needed focus to the challenges of and effective strategies for serving rural and incarcerated learners.
- Restless Productions is focused on using film to tell stories with social impact. Ascendium will support its production of a documentary, “UnlockED,” that follows inmates who taught themselves to code and built an open-source learning management system to increase access to prison education.
These partnerships build on strong, continuing relationships with award-winning journalists and podcasters whose work last year reached tens of thousands of people. Here are just a few of our enduring relationships.
- Rural Matters has produced two seasons of successful podcasts with Ascendium’s support. In the new season, they will produce a four-part series showcasing the assets and challenges of rural communities and spotlighting partnerships between postsecondary education institutions, employers and community leaders.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education developed The Different Voices in Student Success, a multimedia online resource center. It showcases insights and ideas to make student success a priority through special virtual events, focused reports and more. They continue to elevate the successful and innovative approaches needed to enroll, retain and graduate students.
Ascendium’s Growing Strategic Media Partnerships
These partnerships inform and inspire people working across the postsecondary education and workforce training field. Leveraging their investigative nature and storytelling capabilities, they produce news articles, podcasts, books and documentary films.
Academic Intelligence produces the Future U. podcast series that probes the trends, challenges and solutions surrounding student success.
Chalkbeat is developing a higher education beat in two states to build on its already widely recognized K-12 storytelling.
Excelencia In Education is publishing a book telling the story of how the transformation of a small regional public institution gave rise to a local, regional, national and international powerhouse, advancing students and the community.
Open Campus produces insightful reporting and newsletters about rural and prison postsecondary education.
Restless Productions will produce a documentary on an innovative coding program developed by prisoners for prisoners.
Rural Matters continues to create podcasts providing thought leadership on issues in rural postsecondary education.
The Chronicle of Higher Education developed a multimedia online student success resource center to share new and innovative approaches to helping students achieve success. This includes special virtual events, focused reports and advice.
The Hechinger Report produces nationally recognized, award-winning reporting that features stories across our focus areas.
PROGRESS FROM OUR GRANT PARTNERS IN SUPPORT OF ADVANCING OUR MISSION
Improving Student Outcomes Through Placement Reform
Many colleges still test entering students to determine if they’re academically prepared for college-level math and English courses. These single, high-stakes tests have proven to be ineffective predictors of students’ abilities to succeed in college-level courses. They are also barriers to early college success for learners from low-income backgrounds and adult learners.Read More
Using Real-time Data to Inform Effective Transfer Policy and Practice
When the COVID-19 health crisis emerged, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center stood ready to react. They recognized the difficulty of aligning transfer policy and practice even before the crisis and focused their efforts on transfer trends. Transfer plays an essential role in...Read More
Moving from Incarceration to Careers in Tech
According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, nearly half of all individuals released from prison return within five years. Many incarcerated adults lack access to postsecondary education in prison. And what little programming exists is often costly to the institutions and disconnected from career opportunities.Read More
Building the Capacity of Rural Postsecondary Providers Through Community
Building off momentum from an earlier Ascendium grant, the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement (NCII) made strides this year in developing and delivering a regionalized approach to guided pathways focused specifically on rural institutions. Large-scale educational reform…Read More
A Refined Focus on Learning and Impact
The Learning and Impact team continues to help Ascendium understand the impacts of postsecondary education reforms, prioritizing the building of high-quality evidence that is useful to the field in 2022. Recognizing postsecondary education systems need to do better for learners from low-income backgrounds, the team also ensured our research and evaluation grants advanced equity by examining who conducts the research, how it is conducted and why.
There was also an increased focus on the relevance and rigor of the evidence we’re helping generate and a desire to ask more than just “does it work?” about the strategies and practices we’re evaluating. When researchers ask more robust questions within their work, they don’t just create evidence — they create evidence with a purpose as it supports action and advances social change.
A grant to Community College Research Center (CCRC) is a great example. CCRC is conducting several studies to deepen our understanding of which student success reforms are working, for which learners and under what conditions. These studies provide useful evidence to community college leaders engaged in large-scale education reform.
By centering equity and generating relevant and rigorous evidence, we have responded to the current moment, equipping stakeholders with the timely knowledge needed to ensure that learners from low-income backgrounds can succeed.
Our report provides an overview of our grantmaking, shining a spotlight on the important efforts being carried out by our grant partners to serve learners from low-income backgrounds. While we are inspired by the many stories of progress and success in 2022, we remain aware of the challenges many learners, institutions and organizations faced as well. Ascendium will continue to listen to our grant partners in the field and invest in efforts to ensure that all learners see value in — and are able to succeed in — a high-quality postsecondary education or workforce training program.
We’re excited to learn from others with fresh ideas and ensure they have the support they need to test those ideas. We’re also looking forward to generating research that validates whether these new ideas have the intended impact on our target populations. And for impactful new ideas, we’re thinking more strategically about how to deploy them so that they can benefit the greatest number of learners from low-income backgrounds.
We are entering 2023 with optimism and a renewed sense of purpose as we prepare for a strategy refresh. As part of that process, we will focus on listening and learning from our peers, grant partners and the field about the role philanthropy should play at this moment in time.
Ascendium is committed to finding, testing and scaling the most promising strategies for removing the persistent barriers that impact learners from low-income backgrounds. We strive to contribute to systemic change that will lead to more equitable postsecondary education and career success for these learners.
A Culture of Giving
Ascendium’s mission to champion opportunity permeates everything we do. Our employees embody this mission in their daily work and are passionate about making a difference in their communities as well. Throughout the year, Ascendium employees participate in initiatives that allow them to meet the needs of students and their families in the communities where employees live and work. They also contribute to organizations that share our goal of elevating opportunity.
donated to local United Ways and Community Shares of Wisconsin through Unite for Our Communities (includes 4:1 corporate match for every $1 pledged by employees).
given to education and workforce training nonprofits through Good Neighbor Grants.
donated to 114 nonprofits through Triple Your Impact (includes 3:1 corporate match for every $1 donated by employees).
volunteered by employees through paid volunteer time off.
donated to nonprofits through Dollars for Doers, in which Ascendium matches volunteer hours with donations to organizations where employees volunteered.
in corporate gifts to local nonprofits, including capital campaign donations to Centro Hispano of Dane County and The Center for Black Excellence and Culture.
A New Home for a Promising Future
Opened in April, Ascendium’s corporate headquarters symbolizes our vision of a world where everyone has the opportunity to rise. Located in Madison, Wisconsin, the 60,000- square-foot facility rises from the landscape to evoke ideals of loftiness and aspiration. The building encourages connection and partnership with its cutting-edge technology, conference rooms and collaboration spaces.