Advancing Transformational Change through Our Initiatives
By Sarah Belnick, Senior Program Director
November 15, 2023
ECMC Foundation’s mission has always centered on success in higher education—for individual students, for institutions and for the postsecondary ecosystem. That’s why, for eight years, I’ve been proud to oversee our College Success portfolio, which took a comprehensive approach to funding associate’s and bachelor’s degree persistence and completion efforts. We funded hundreds of programs, from mentoring and advising to working with administrators, inter-institutional networks and state leaders on innovative projects to improve transfer from two- to four-year institutions.
This year, with our strategic framework in place, we had the chance to reimagine how our organizational structure could best align with our new approach. Whereas before we had our Career Readiness and College Success focus areas, we now organize our work into two interconnected categories: initiatives and strategically responsive grants and investments. Initiatives are topical areas where we have built particular expertise and a strong point of view on how to drive sustained change over time. Our initiatives have emerged as critical components of our work and have continued to be refined and developed during the implementation of our strategic framework. At the same time, our strategically responsive grantmaking and investing allows us to be nimble and sensitive to the evolving needs of the field.
As Senior Program Director assigned to lead a team of program officers who oversee specific initiatives, I now have the pleasure of working alongside colleagues who manage the Basic Needs Initiative, the Men of Color Initiative, the Single Mother Student Success Initiative, and the Transfer and Credit Mobility Initiative―areas we’ve deliberately and significantly funded for years. Initiatives involve a designated, multiyear grantmaking commitment as well as a theory of action and a learning and evaluation strategy. In partnership with our grantees and investees, we are designing solutions aimed at addressing some of the most pervasive problems currently facing the postsecondary landscape. While there are throughlines connecting all of our Initiatives, each operates with a degree of autonomy and leverages opportunities to advance systemic change through innovations in the field. I’m excited to share a look at some highlights from our Initiatives this year.
Basic Needs Initiative
The Basic Needs Initiative has just announced its new strategy which involves a three-pronged approach to help many more students become basic needs secure. The Initiative aims to decrease the number of students experiencing basic needs insecurity by 10% by 2033 by growing data capacity, scaling effective practices and informing policy reform. Innovations at the institution, state and federal levels will be critical to achieve success. Recently, ECMC Foundation made a grant to the National Student Legal Defense Network to help streamline access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in California and two to three additional states by using information already available in federal student aid applications to identify eligible postsecondary students. The goal is to increase the number of eligible students who enroll in and use SNAP with a replicable model other states can use—a major undertaking, but one that could rapidly transform students’ lives.
Men of Color Initiative
The Men of Color Initiative recently partnered with the USC Race and Equity Center to launch the flagship Takeoff program, which brings together 15 community colleges to participate in two years of learning, expert coaching, strategic planning and program development to better support male students of color on campus, both in and outside of the classroom.
Single Mother Student Success Initiative
One key strategy of the Single Mother Student Success Initiative has been to fuel innovative cross-sector partnerships to advance supports for single mother students. That’s why this year, we funded a new partnership involving the Association of Community College Trustees and the National Head Start Association to plan early learning centers on community college campuses. The two organizations developed resources to help match existing Head Start providers with community colleges that can offer facilities at no cost.
Transfer and Credit Mobility Initiative
The Transfer and Credit Mobility Initiative supports the creation of strategies and resources that serve community college students who wish to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree at four-year colleges and universities. By creating transparent and seamless pathways between two- and four-year institutions, students from underserved groups—who disproportionately enroll in community colleges—are connected to the full range of postsecondary education opportunities in the U.S. Given the importance of community colleges and the transfer pathway for underserved students, ECMC Foundation supported the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) and the Gardner Institute who initiated the State Transfer Policy Standards Project. This recently completed project provided guidance to participating states about the need to develop and the process for developing transfer policies that are equity minded and focused on advancing explicit student attainment goals via the transfer pathway.
These are just a few examples of how our Strategic Framework is moving innovative, transformative projects forward. We see so much potential as we continue building out each Initiative, setting more precise priorities and further honing our grantmaking strategies. We remain rooted in the same values we’ve always had as we strategically fund meaningful work to equitably transform higher education outcomes. We bring to every collaboration humility, a desire to learn and a commitment to sharing the results of our work to help educate and improve the field.
Looking ahead, ECMC Foundation is eager to build on our strategic evolution and move change forward in meaningful ways. Our Initiatives are integral to that vision—and I cannot wait to see how much we can grow.