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Growing Our Grants and Investments in 2023 and Beyond

By Lynn Alvarez, Vice President of Programs and Strategy

December 13, 2023

Student looking at classmate.

This year marked a period of significant growth and change for ECMC Foundation as we implemented our strategic framework, embraced new leadership and reinforced our commitment to the millions of students whom we serve through our grants and investments. We have strengthened our focus on systemic change by refining our approach and entering into new partnerships with grantees and investees at the leading edge of innovation in postsecondary education. Through our strategic framework, we aim to address the root cause of pervasive problems that lead to inequitable student outcomes. We believe that by changing the systems that hold these problems in place, we will ultimately serve more students and make a meaningful and lasting impact on postsecondary education, our society and our economy.

As we considered a record number of letters of inquiry this year, we looked for projects that align with at least one of three strategic priorities: eliminating barriers to postsecondary completion; building the capacity of organizations, institutions and systems; and transforming the postsecondary ecosystem. The strategic priorities are in many ways interlocking and interdependent, representing a three-pronged approach to creating immediate change by removing obstacles that stand in the way of learner success right now; equipping institutions and organizations to better serve learners; and evolving the postsecondary ecosystem over the medium-long term to become a more adaptive and resilient system capable of delivering more equitable outcomes. Some projects fit within one of our five initiatives focused on: addressing basic needs insecurity; promoting leadership in career and technical education; improving postsecondary outcomes for men of color; supporting single mother student success; and streamlining transfer and credit mobility.* Other projects did not fit within one of our initiatives but were still eligible for a strategically responsive grant or investment. Our strategically responsive portfolio makes up a significant portion of our grants and investments and through our open Letter of Inquiry system where most of those grants come to our attention, it embodies our commitment to staying attuned to the evolving needs of the field. Our new approach has allowed us to make grants and investments efficiently and effectively, while staying true to our mission to improve higher education for career success among underserved populations through evidence-based innovation.

New this year, we have used our strategic framework to implement a different staffing structure. Senior Program Director Sarah Belnick now leads a team of program officers who oversee our initiatives. Senior Program Director Jennifer Zeisler leads a team of program officers dedicated to strategically responsive grantmaking. To avoid silos, we have built channels for close collaboration across the organization so we can learn from each other’s work.

Our growing learning and evaluation (L&E) team partners with Foundation staff to plan and design theories of action, analyze data from our grantees and investees, explore trends in the field and guide the learning life cycle. Through L&E, we build on lessons learned and deepen existing and emerging work in promising areas.

Throughout strategic framework implementation, we made more grants and investments, providing a record amount of funding focused on national scale and scope of impact. From January 1 through December 13, we made 89 grants and investments. The average amount per grant/investment for 2023 is $561,971, compared to $512,057 in 2022.

Reflecting on our grantmaking and investing in 2023, we are filled with gratitude for the dedication, skill and fortitude of our partners in this work. We truly cannot wait for what’s to come in 2024.

The total amount of funding for September 14 – December 13 is $10,981,828. Our most recent grants and investments include:

Basic Needs Initiative

Howard University ($368,062) to better understand campus policies, interventions, and practices that promote HBCU students’ holistic well-being and improve the capacity of HBCUs to better serve the holistic needs of their students.

Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education ($1,551,356) to build the capacity, data infrastructure and content expertise of all 24 Kentucky public higher education institutions.

Mile 2 Consulting ($250,000) to conduct a landscape scan of Medicaid use by community colleges to provide healthcare services to their students.

Men of Color Initiative

University of Texas at Austin ($150,000) to implement a partnership between Project MALES and ten two-year and four-year colleges and universities in South and West Texas.

Single Mother Success Initiative

The Urban Institute ($150,000) to hire two Skills and Training in Action Research (STAR) Fellows, produce four topic-specific briefs with national statistics of parenting and single mother students, develop new branding for the Student Parent Action through Research Knowledge (SPARK) Collaborative and widely disseminate the updated data.

Strategically Responsive Grantmaking

Bottom Line ($1,000,000) to refine data collection practices, automate student service plans and create new resources including self-paced tools and automated communications, supporting persistence and completion for 6,000 students.

CalMatters ($75,000) to produce higher education stories, projects, and data-driven packages published in English and Spanish and distribute the work to its media partners.

College Promise ($580,000) to provide technical assistance covering the implementation of key wraparound student supports and strategies for financial sustainability to up to 24 new and existing Statewide Promise programs and lead professional development workshops to three regions that serve 75% of all Promise students.

EdSource ($125,000) to cover postsecondary education on a year-round basis, while also supporting early steps toward developing national reporting partnerships and a presence in Washington, D.C.

EdSurge ($150,000) to execute a content strategy that addresses various aspects of higher education.

Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, Inc. (GPEE) ($620,000) to formalize its Rural Learning Network as a Community of Practice surrounding postsecondary degree completion efforts and engage in state strategy development through its EdQuest Coalition.

LA Tech ($1,050,000) to engage 500 LA-based community college and California State University students in the Career Academies, place them into internships at leading technology companies as part of the 1,000 Intern Initiative and track the connection to postsecondary student success.

National Public Radio ($225,000) to support the network's reporting on higher education.

Open Campus Media ($150,000) received funding to strengthen and expand coverage centered on the nation’s community colleges.

Sinclair Community College ($749,910) to bolster internal capacity, advance work-based learning opportunities and evaluate and disseminate learnings.

State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) ($750,000) to execute the Noncredit Mobility Academy, a two-year initiative to support five states dedicated to building data and policy infrastructure.

The Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF) ($687,500) to develop and implement a 10-month Faculty Innovation Fellowship (Fellowship) for up to 40 faculty members working at two- and four-year institutions.

The Hechinger Report ($100,000) to report on postsecondary education, particularly as it impacts students of color, first-generation and nontraditional students in their efforts to attain learning beyond high school.

The Texas Tribune ($110,000) to support its higher education beat, now staffed by two reporters.

Transfer and Credit Mobility Initiative

Open Syllabus ($800,000) to build a national course articulation service (the Course Matcher) that can ‘predictively articulate’ all classes across hundreds and eventually thousands of colleges and universities and associate those predictions with syllabi that can serve as confirmation of a course match.

Public Agenda ($740,000) to engage policymakers, higher education leaders and students to improve transfer and credit mobility by identifying under-utilized policy levers and recalibrating postsecondary financial incentives.

Texas Community College Education Initiative ($250,000) to help implement Texas House Bill 8 (HB 8), a comprehensive and innovative higher education performance funding model, that will shift the ways in which state and local funding of community colleges will be conducted at the state’s 50 community colleges.

Education Innovation Ventures

Escalate ($100,000) to build their MVP to deploy for customer pilots, new key hires and working capital between customer contracts.

LivedX ($250,000) to support an AI-powered student success platform that documents and transforms lived experiences into college credits.

*In 2024, a sixth initiative will fund programs to support rural learners.

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