Loading 2022 Education Philanthropy Report
2022 Education Philanthropy Report

Meeting the

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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.


Portrait of Dick George, Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer of Ascendium Education Group
“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.”


The Moments Shaping
Our Grantmaking

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.

Richard D. George
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.

Remove Structural Barriers to Success
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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.

Streamline Key Learner Transitions

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.

Support Rural Postsecondary Education and Workforce Training
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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.

Streamline Key Learner Transitions

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.

Support Rural Postsecondary Education and Workforce Training

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.

Expand Postsecondary Education in Prison

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.

Remove Structural Barriers to Success


Dr. Rodney L. McCrowre, assistant chair and assistant professor at Fayetteville State University, works with participants of the Academic Navigation Pilot

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...

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Merit America Product Manager Kirstin Li works with Merit America student Hamid Hamidi

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.

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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?

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Woman working at a laptop outside on a wooden porch with trees in the background

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.

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Elevating Partner and Learner Information Through Strategic Media Partnerships

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“Higher education professionals have reported that the resources shared via the Different Voices of Student Success partnership are helping their student success efforts with students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and those who are the first in their family to attend college.” The Chronicle of Higher Education

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.
  • logo for Chalk Beat it is the word Chalkbeat in a square
    Chalkbeat is developing a higher education beat in two states to build on its already widely recognized K-12 storytelling.
  • The Excelencia logo it is the words Excelencia in Education flanked by exclamation marks
    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.
  • The Open Campus logo, it is a circular shape above the words Open Campus and the sub title Investigating and Elevating Higher Education
    Open Campus produces insightful reporting and newsletters about rural and prison postsecondary education.
  • The logo for Restless Productions, it is the words Restless Productions
    Restless Productions will produce a documentary on an innovative coding program developed by prisoners for prisoners.
  • The Rural Matters logo, it is an image of a farm field receding into the background under a partly cloudy sky with the words Rural Matters with Michelle Rathman
    Rural Matters continues to create podcasts providing thought leadership on issues in rural postsecondary education.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education logo, it is the letter C inside of a dark blue box
    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 logo, it is the letter H inside of a 3 dimensional box with a yellow background
    The Hechinger Report produces nationally recognized, award-winning reporting that features stories across our focus areas.


Jessica Wise, Kate Evans, Mindy Hodges, Deena Martin, Caleb Hughes and Wayne Floyd from University of Arkansas - Pulaski Technical College discuss multiple measures work

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.

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In a still taken from a video National Student Clearing House Research Center Executive Director Doug Shapiro discusses transfer trend implications

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...

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LaunchCode JusTech professor Ben Clark shakes hands with graduate Jeffrey Cooper

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
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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…

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A Refined Focus on Learning and Impact

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When researchers ask more robust questions, they create evidence that supports action and advances social change. Further questions include why, how does it work, for whom does it work, under which conditions does it work and is now the right time to ask if it works?

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 Commitment to Exploring, Validating and Scaling Continues
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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.

Photo top, left: The Education Philanthropy team gathers to discuss our grantmaking strategy at the Ascendium office. Photo bottom, left: Sarah Mayer, interim executive director of LaunchCode, and others listen while graduate Ron Crenshaw speaks at the JusTech graduation. Photo bottom, right: Le’Mont Calhoun and Jamal Alsoffi exchange ideas at the Merit America office.
Ascendium is committed to finding, testing and scaling the most promising strategies for removing the persistent barriers that impact learners from low-income backgrounds.

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).

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$1 million

given to education and workforce training nonprofits through Good Neighbor Grants.

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donated to 114 nonprofits through Triple Your Impact (includes 3:1 corporate match for every $1 donated by employees).

1,100+ hours

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.

A man is standing behind a table covered with toys and games

$5 million+

in corporate gifts to local nonprofits, including capital campaign donations to Centro Hispano of Dane County and The Center for Black Excellence and Culture.

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A New Home for a Promising Future

An image of the Ascendium Education Group's Madison Wisconsin headquartersAn image of the Ascendium Education Group's Madison Wisconsin headquartersAn image of the Ascendium Education Group's Madison Wisconsin headquartersAn image of the Ascendium Education Group's Madison Wisconsin headquartersAn image of the Ascendium Education Group's Madison Wisconsin headquartersAn image of the Ascendium Education Group's Madison Wisconsin headquarters

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.