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Eliminating Equity Gaps in Postsecondary Completion

May 16, 2024

Dear ECMC Foundation Community,

May is a special time of the year, especially for those of us who are fortunate to dedicate our work and passion to the life-changing field of postsecondary education. May brings college commencement ceremonies across our nation, and with them, immeasurable excitement and aspiration among millions of graduates. ECMC Foundation congratulates this year’s graduates with heartfelt admiration.

May also presents us with an opportunity to reflect on the sobering reality that many individuals who enrolled with the class of 2024 will not receive a degree. The past four years have been difficult for many individuals and families across the nation. Although its effects have been dramatic on higher education, the COVID-19 pandemic is only one factor—albeit a critical one—among many barriers faced by students and challenges stress-testing the postsecondary landscape.

Inarguably, the pathway to college completion is fraught with barriers, especially for underserved learners. At ECMC Foundation, we are working urgently toward our North Star: By 2040 equity gaps in postsecondary completion are eliminated, so that underserved learners have greater opportunity for social and economic mobility. This audacious goal for postsecondary education directly aligns with our mission to improve higher education for career success among underserved populations through evidence-based innovation. These are interdependent and measurable outcomes, interwoven by a common urgency to create a future state of postsecondary education in which all students reach the finish line. To learn more, I invite you to watch a recording of last month’s North Star webinar.

I recently had the great fortune to visit with three esteemed leaders in higher education: Dhanfu Elston, PhD, senior vice president and chief of staff, Complete College America; Ajita Menon, president and CEO, Calbright College; and Ted Mitchell, PhD, president, American Council on Education (ACE). We discussed how partners in the field can work together to eliminate equity gaps in postsecondary completion. Several key takeaways emerged from our conversation and subsequent listening session.

To eliminate equity gaps, we must close institutional effectiveness gaps. Dr. Elston elevated the important truth that our students do not need to be fixed; instead, we must change the systems that are supposed to serve them.

Collecting better data is critical to closing equity gaps. Ms. Menon underscored the importance of improving data systems to better understand students’ needs from the perspective of learners. Colleges and universities must address data gaps and develop their own capacity to understand and confront inequities so data becomes actionable for stronger outcomes.

We must look beyond research capacity and judge colleges and universities on their ability to help students achieve social and economic mobility. Dr. Mitchell discussed the critical nature of the work ACE is performing to change the Carnegie Classifications to prioritize student outcomes.

ECMC Foundation embraces these ideals as we make grants and program-related investments to partners in this work. A recent review found that the populations most frequently served by our grants include students of color, low-income or Pell-eligible students, first-generation college students and adult learners.1 ECMC Foundation also has three population-focused initiatives centered on men of color, rural learners and single mother students. Within and outside these initiatives, including across our strategically responsive grantmaking portfolio, we value the power of data to transform postsecondary outcomes. An analysis conducted by our Learning and Evaluation team found just over half of the grants made in 2023 related to data, which has allowed us to develop a strategy to guide our data-related grantmaking.

Our portfolio review process allows us to look inwardly as we learn and grow. Externally, we turn to our partners in the field to help us better understand how they are approaching shared goals on behalf of the students we all serve. We look forward to gaining more insights from leaders in philanthropy, education, business and other sectors as we galvanize our resources toward a future state where all learners seeking a postsecondary credential achieve their dream.


Jacob Fraire
ECMC Foundation

1 Based on 153 monitored grants made between September 21, 2016, and November 15, 2023.

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