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Finding Optimism in the Future of Higher Education

June 06, 2019

By Peter J. Taylor, ECMC Foundation

It hasn’t been an easy year for many college campuses.

Several months ago, a star-studded admissions scandal involving Hollywood celebrities, top CEOs and athletic coaches, stirred up questions about wealth, class, privilege and admissions to elite colleges.  

This followed the end of the Harvard University trial that placed the school’s alleged racial discrimination and the constitutionality of Affirmative Action at the center of national public attention.

Only two weeks ago, the College Board announced it would roll out the Environmental Context Dashboard, more commonly known as the “adversity score.” While the College Board claims the score’s intent is to provide universities and colleges context into applicants’ socioeconomic advantages and disadvantages, critics have openly shared their doubts about the score and questioned the methods, tools and processes colleges use to assess applicants.

The back-to-back headlines have been, at best, unsettling. It is easy to become discouraged from the noise. At ECMC Foundation, we addressed these issues internally and asked ourselves what it meant to work in philanthropy during a time when many of us feel angst about the present and future of higher education.

When we turned to the positive trends and developments led by college campuses, we realized that these headlines don’t paint the whole landscape – because so much good does happen in higher education.

Celebrating the Good in Higher Education

On National Higher Education Day, we are taking a moment to highlight several positive trends and developments across postsecondary education. We hope you will take a moment to read through the amazing ways our community is driving progress in higher education; and that these stories leave you with the optimism we feel.

  • Diversity Rises Across Campuses: Campuses across the country are more diverse than ever. Between 1996 to 2016, the enrollment of students of color among undergraduates increased from 29.6 percent to 45.2 percent. ECMC Foundation grantees, such as Triton College, are spearheading programs to support students of color through their journeys at institutions that were not historically designed to serve them. The Triton Undergraduate Men Pursuing Higher Education (TRIUMPH) enlists campus faculty to provide mentoring to men of color on campus.
  • Co-requisite Remedial Education Help Students Succeed: In recent years, more institutions have been moving away from remedial education and replacing it with co-requisite remedial education. While traditional remedial education is meant to help these students who lack college-level skills in mathematics, reading and writing, most who are assigned to remedial classes do not attend or fail to complete. In the co-requisite remedial model, which has been found to be successful, students receive extra help, but do not delay taking college-level work. Grantee WestEd is among the organizations supporting campuses’ shift towards co-requisite courses. Its Math Pathways program is a course series that guides students who would have been otherwise placed in developmental courses through required credit-bearing college-level mathematics in a single year.
  • Campuses Choose Collaboration Over Silos: While college campuses rarely reach outside their walls to collaborate with other campuses, 11 postsecondary institutions, through grantee University of Innovation Alliance (UIA) have pledged to work together to share best practices, pilot innovations and openly discuss risks and failures. Across UIA, officials at the institutions work together to better replicate one another’s progress and scale the impact across many more institutions. As of fall 2018, UIA has increased the graduation rate of low-income students across its campuses by 30%.
  • Institutions Innovate To Better Serve Independent Learners: Today, a rising number of undergraduate students are increasingly defined as independent students, who are likely to be over the age of 25 and the first in their family to attend college. They often face competing demands for their time including work and family responsibilities. Many are single mothers, returning veterans and individuals currently or formerly involved with the justice system. To help these student succeed, institutions are implementing more flexible schedules through innovative learning models like blended learning, online courses and asynchronous schedules. The Altierus Career College campuses, operated by grantee Zenith Education Group, offers many of its programs in the blended learning format, combining hands-on classroom experience with online education. With support from ECMC Foundation, government funding and others, the Foundation for California Community Colleges has developed the California Community College system’s 100% online campus using information gleaned from adult learners. The college is scheduled to launch in Fall 2019.

Thank You for Championing Progress

Many of these accomplishments are because of the leaders, educators and administrators across our grantee and partner communities who work each day to improve higher education, and its ability to better serve all students, including first-generation, low-income, students of color, and increasingly independent, adult learners.

You remind us, daily, that so much good happens in higher education. On behalf of ECMC Foundation and our parent company ECMC Group –Thank You.


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