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Strength in Numbers for Postsecondary Access and Attainment (PSA2)

November 28, 2018

By Angela Sanchez, ECMC Foundation and Sue Cui, Ascendium Education Group

In October 2015, Grantmakers for Education (GFE) held its annual conference in San Francisco, California. On the second evening of the conference, GFE traditionally holds a series of smaller receptions, typically focused on subject areas of interest for attendees. Topics can range from philanthropic lens, such as racial equity, to field-specific, such as arts in education. That year, in one reception room, aloose-leaf signup sheet was hastily passed around. Ideas were shared and names exchanged—a new network was taking shape.

Established in 1995, GFE is a national network geared toward supporting community and collective insights among funders in education. GFE’s goal is to enable grantmakers to make more intentional and impactful investments. With a membership of nearly 300 organizations and 1,800 individuals with geographic reach ranging from national to regional to local, GFE represents the education continuum.

This breadth is why Impact Groups—subsidiary collectives of funders—are so critical to carving out laser-focused communities of influence. According to GFE, Impact Groups “leverage the network of education experts and funders within GFE to bring people together for meaningful dialog and action on the most critical challenges in public education.”

For a group of funders in October 2015, there was a desire to coalesce around the access to and attainment of postsecondary degrees. The rough signup sheet was soon converted into a listserv and, shortly thereafter, into a formalized impact group for Postsecondary Access and Attainment. The PSA2 was born.

Among its objectives, the PSA2 aims to:

  • Foster deep learning, engagement, and collaboration among GFE members interested in postsecondary education;
  • Identify innovations and scale best practices to improve postsecondary persistence and completion; and
  • Offer topical webinars, workshops, and receptions to inform grantmaking

As of October 2018, the PSA2 welcomed its new incoming co-chairs Angela Sanchez, Program Officer for College Success at ECMC Foundation, and Sue Cui, Senior Program Officer for Community Investments at Ascendium Education Group. The following are their remarks on why the presence and work of the PSA2 is meaningful.

Angela SanchezAngela Sanchez: When many people think of “postsecondary education” it usually stops somewhere with college access—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! For one, you can’t support anyone to the brink of the most critical milestone in their educational development and leave them on their own from there. This is especially true if the student is from a traditionally underrepresented background to which academia has been historically hostile (e.g. students of color, students who are first-generation, low-income, etc.). Completion of this degree post-high school is when the ROI really kicks in.

As more volume and activity builds around the postsecondary space, collective and intentional grantmaking becomes increasingly important to ensure innovative and impactful practices are shared and supported. For the PSA2, we need to be extremely attentive to keeping interactions frequent and open. It’s why networks among funders are so critical.

Sue CuiSue Cui: As funders, we’re often occupied with the steady churn of grantmaking cycles and development of new initiatives. PSA2 creates opportunities to pause, take stock, and reflect on our work to date. The ability to talk shop with my counterparts at other foundations has given me invaluable exposure to new strategies and different perspectives. PSA2 is comprised of diverse voices and thought; the one constant is our deep passion for and conviction in the promise of education to change lives and transform entire communities.

Co-chair terms for the PSA2 are two years long. It’s an equally short and long time to accomplish a lot. Our previous co-chairs, Rebecca Villarreal at Ascendium and Mara Botman at Chicago Circle of Service Foundation, left us some pretty big shoes to fill. Right now, we’re hopeful that deep dives into new research and best practices will keep funders informed; that events we host foster genuine conversation and opportunities for connection; and—more than anything—we’re looking to leverage the richness of the GFE community to inform our work in the postsecondary space for the benefit of every student.

The 2018 GFE conference deepened our understanding of today’s learners and challenged us to build coherence and understanding across the education continuum. We’re looking forward to an action-packed two years ahead!

Angela Sanchez is a Program Officer for College Success at ECMC Foundation. Angela’s work focuses on bachelor degree attainment for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds via direct service programs and systemic reform.

Sue Cui is a senior program officer at Ascendium Education Group, where she works on philanthropic initiatives designed to increase college attainment for first-generation students, students of color, and those from low-income backgrounds.

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