Skip to Content

The Students We Serve

June 20, 2024

Dear ECMC Foundation Community,

As we consider student-centered reforms to higher education, we must account for institutional and system practices, policies and mindsets as well as funding priorities among state and federal policy leaders. These factors affect the student experience. Reforms are especially needed to redress the inequities in postsecondary attainment among students from underserved backgrounds. For them, a college degree or other postsecondary credential often represents the sole viable pathway out of poverty.

Earlier this year, ECMC Foundation set an ambitious North Star goal: By 2040 equity gaps in postsecondary completion are eliminated, so that underserved learners have greater opportunity for social and economic mobility. We approach this goal with a sense of urgency and continued commitment to our mission to improve higher education for career success among underserved populations through evidence-based innovation. But changing systems takes time. We aim to simultaneously address the acute needs of students today and advance reforms, which will have the greatest impact on the college students of tomorrow.

Who are those students? They are children like Maria, a first grader at an elementary school that is likely overcrowded and under-resourced. Her parents did not attend college, and she would be the first in her family to graduate. For Maria, college completion will likely open a door to the middle class, but only if she completes a postsecondary credential. Yet, currently, the national college completion rate is, at best, about 62%; a little more than a coin flip. The rate is substantially lower for students from underserved populations, like Maria. Our nation’s system of higher education needs much better outcomes across the board. Students like Maria should realize graduation outcomes equal to her peers—these students are counting on us to make these outcomes a reality.

We can accelerate reforms and improve outcomes through broader access to, and effective use of, disaggregated data, seeding bold innovations and fostering collaboration. To catalyze postsecondary reforms, ECMC Foundation is supporting student-centered grants and program-related investments designed to remove barriers, increase capacity and transform postsecondary ecosystems.

This month, the Foundation was pleased to release a new request for proposal (RFP) in support of our Rural Impact Initiative. The RFP focuses on three areas of research: the college experiences of rural learners with intersecting identities; the roles of rural postsecondary institutions; and the policies affecting rural postsecondary education. The need for more precise data to better understand rural learners and the systems that serve them is paramount.

In addition to our portfolio of grants being made as part of the Rural Impact Initiative, our other recent grants and program-related investments support a broad range of projects that test new ideas, implement promising practices and scale successful programs. One exciting example is our partnership with the American Council on Education (ACE) to develop a social and economic mobility (SEM) indicator that will be used to classify all U.S. colleges and universities as part of the Carnegie Classification system. The current system, while important, narrowly classifies colleges and universities based on the conferral of doctorate degrees and research activity only. Higher education needs to spend more attention on closing equity gaps; the new classification system will provide them with new incentives to do just that. While students in the next few academic years may not feel the immediate effect of this change, Maria almost certainly will benefit from this reform’s influence on institutional practices and policies.

In addition to supporting partnerships designed to achieve systemic change, we also pay close attention to specific cohorts of students who face major obstacles as they attempt to complete their degrees. Our North Star goal and the strategic framework we use to structure our approach take many different criteria into account. Some of our initiatives represent a focus on postsecondary outcomes for men of color, rural learners and single mother students. Our other portfolios address the needs of a wider range of learners from underserved groups including students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income communities.

We invite colleagues across philanthropy, higher education and public policy to join us in illuminating this North Star so that students, like Maria, will start their education journey confident that the pathway to a life-changing postsecondary credential is within reach. We are grateful to our partners across the nation who are working toward a better future for all students, and in turn a better future for us all.

Thank you.

In service to students and community,

Jacob Fraire
ECMC Foundation

Back to News