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Demonstrating our Commitment to Equity

March 30, 2023

Dear ECMC Foundation Community,

During my first conversation with the ECMC Foundation team, I shared my sense of urgency to transform the postsecondary ecosystem to better serve students from all backgrounds, especially students of color and first-generation students. This sense of urgency is only made stronger by the headwinds moving against equity-centered funding and supports on college campuses.

I joined the ECMC Group family from Texas, where well-publicized efforts are underway to dismantle postsecondary diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs that support a significant number of students on their education journey. A similar campaign against equity is gaining traction in Florida where pending legislation would stop public institutions of higher education from supporting DEI programs.

Texas and Florida are not alone. The Chronicle of Higher Education identified 13 states where lawmakers have recently introduced bills to restrict colleges’ efforts to strengthen DEI. Further, the Supreme Court’s expected ruling on affirmative action and race-conscious admissions poses another critical threat to advancing equitable strategies in higher education.

I cannot overstate the power of this moment to change the postsecondary experience for students everywhere. As a national organization positioned to make large-scale impact through our strategic partnerships in every state, we believe much is at stake. Equity has been and will continue to be at the center of our work, and we know what is required to see positive impacts on persistence, transfer and completion.

No matter the result and broad implications of these policy decisions, we must remain steadfast in our mission to drive sustained systemic change. Our current reality casts major roadblocks, but we are undeterred. Our portfolio of strategic grants and investments continues to grow as we work to ensure all students can affordably complete a postsecondary degree and secure jobs that pay family-sustaining wages.

Recently, members of our Foundation team attended the A²MEND African American Male Summit in Los Angeles and the SAAB National Conference in St. Louis where the current movement against equity that is sweeping our nation was a top item on the agenda. Both conferences focused on how we can better support men of color in higher education.

Through our ongoing work, we know that postsecondary outcomes for men of color are unacceptably low. Despite making up 40 percent of community college enrollments, less than 30% of men of color complete degree programs within three years in their first community college. Bachelor’s degree achievement is just as troubling, with Black (34.3%), Hispanic (49.2%), Pacific Islander (48.2%), and Indigenous/Alaska Native (38%) students completing at very low rates within six years.

In a targeted effort to help our postsecondary system deliver much better results, ECMC Foundation recently launched the Men of Color Initiative, and I am eager to support its continued development over the next several years. The initiative includes a $20 million commitment to transform the higher education ecosystem for Black, Latinx, Southeast Asian and Native American men. The initiative’s signature project, Takeoff: Institutional Innovations for College Men of Color, is focused on supporting 12 community colleges across the country as they pilot, implement and scale innovative efforts to support men of color on campus. We are grateful to our partners at the USC Race and Equity Center for leading this program, which is currently accepting proposals from community colleges through April 10, 2023.

An important part of this work is cultivating a sense of belonging on campus. Research finds that when Black and Latino men feel connected to their institutions, they are more likely to engage in academic support services.

Given the crisis now facing millions of students from underserved backgrounds, including men of color, we must double down on our efforts and work swiftly with our extensive partner network to advance data-informed and equity-centered programs.

Seeking to achieve educational equity serves as a throughline connecting all of our ongoing initiatives and the students they support. The policy implications of this work are far-reaching and present a unique opportunity to tie our grants and investments to meaningful change at the state and federal levels.

We invite our trusted partners to consider how we can harness our deepest fears about today’s national discourse on DEI and turn our attention to practice and policy to advance systemic change. Our resolve to equity must remain at the fore of our work.

Despite our current challenges, I am optimistic that through dedicated collaboration and evidence-based innovation, we will achieve success on our path forward.

In service to students and community,

Jacob Fraire
President, ECMC Foundation

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