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North Star FAQ

Does ECMC Foundation prioritize certain states for the North Star? 

The North Star is a nationally focused effort that aims to create a future state where all learners, regardless of their background, can unlock their fullest potential and graduate at the same rate as their fellow Americans from all walks of life by 2040. As a national postsecondary funder, ECMC Foundation does not prioritize grants or investments in any one state or region.  

Why do you want to achieve the North Star goal by 2040? Why did you choose that particular timeframe? 

The parameters were set to ensure that children who begin elementary school in 2024 will graduate at the same rate as their peers. This allows for a comprehensive approach to support students throughout every step of their postsecondary journey, from equitable enrollment to graduation.  

Given the emphasis on data for measuring investment success towards the 2040 goal, what specific metrics or indicators is ECMC Foundation prioritizing to ensure progress is being made toward equity in college completion? 

ECMC Foundation plans to monitor progress in closing equity gaps, relying on publicly available data.  

How, if at all, do you see the K-12 system as a partner in reaching your North Star? 

We see the K-12 system as adjacent to our work in the field of postsecondary education. While the Foundation recognizes the important role K-12 education plays in increasing postsecondary access and success, we do not fund projects designed to serve K-12 students.  

With so many contextual and personal factors affecting postsecondary completion, some approaches can likely support personal gains in completion but do little to close the gap, especially in the short-term. What does "evidence-based" mean in this context? Would programs and approaches that may support individuals but not reach extensively to alone close gaps still be considered as evidence of promising practices? 

The North Star shines a specific and bright light on the outcome the Foundation most desires from its grantmaking and investment activities—postsecondary completion — representing a logical extension of the Foundation’s strategic priorities. Although any given grant is not required to directly demonstrate that it specifically closes equity gaps in postsecondary education, applicants must nonetheless meet one or more of the Foundation’s strategic priorities and focus on advancing systemic change for underserved learners. The Foundation relies on data from our partners in the field to help identify, validate and scale successful practices, but we also understand that certain grants and investments will require us to take risks, develop new knowledge and test new ideas. 

Will you use national or local data to define "underserved learners"?  

To evaluate progress toward the North Star goal, the Foundation will use national data and local data when national data is not available. Underserved learners include students who are from groups that have been historically marginalized or underserved in higher education and who earn postsecondary credentials at a lower rate than the national completion rate.  

At this time, the Foundation plans to track the progress of students who identify as African American, American Indian, Hispanic, or Pacific Islanders and students from low-income backgrounds. This does not imply that other student constituencies might also be followed, such as the student demographics which are part of our initiatives, including men of color, single mothers, transfer students and students from rural communities. The key to addressing equity gaps in U.S. higher education is having accurate data available with which to measure student outcomes. Where such data do not yet exist, the Foundation may fund initiatives to expand the capacity of colleges and universities to track the progress of students from a variety of categories that have been traditionally underserved in higher education. 

How does ECMC Foundation define systemic change? 

A systemic change approach aims to shift the conditions that hold a problem in place, rather than merely alleviating the symptoms of the problem. In higher education, this may mean adopting policies, adapting practices, reallocating resources, building relationships, shifting dynamics and changing mindsets to address the barriers impeding the success of learners from underserved backgrounds. 

In terms of achieving systemic change, is it advisable to have an advocacy component of our project?  

We do not prioritize advocacy over other strategies to promote systemic change. ECMC Foundation’s grantmaking and program-related investments (PRIs) are guided by the Foundation’s North Star, as well as our mission and strategic framework. All grants and investments meet at least one of the Foundation’s three strategic priorities: removing barriers to postsecondary completion; building the capacity of organizations, institutions and systems; and transforming the postsecondary ecosystem in ways that better serve the postsecondary credential aspirations of students from underserved groups. During the North Star’s operational life, the Foundation may emphasize solutions that have special relevance for one group of students or another. 

For the 40.4 million adults who did not complete their credentials in higher education, what is the strategy to track them to credentialing? 

The Foundation recognizes that systemic change is needed to support returning adults through college completion. As such, we consider funding requests for projects designed to serve this important population. Research on the benefits of postsecondary education make clear that economic and social gains are more likely to accrue to individuals who earn a postsecondary education credential. Nevertheless, research also indicates that some kinds of postsecondary credentials generate greater return-on-investment than others as measured by the social and/or economic mobility of students after college graduation. The Foundation will pay close attention to research that identifies the relative “worth” of postsecondary credentials, especially as they apply to students from underserved groups. 

How does ECMC Foundation want to address the postsecondary education equity gap in the criminal justice system and for those returning to their communities by 2040? 

Over the last nine years, ECMC Foundation has supported higher education programming for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. Although we do not have an initiative specifically focused on higher education in prison and/or for individuals leaving incarceration, we continue to be interested in supporting these efforts as part of our strategically responsive grantmaking.    

With new insights and learnings from the variety of supported projects, how will ECMC Foundation partner with existing networks for scaled and expedited implementation of high impact practices? 

ECMC Foundation partners with organizations, institutions and systems to support organizational capacity building, new program or model development, existing program refinement or expansion, capital, research and evaluation. A key aspect of our approach is a commitment to being aware of and responsive to developments in the field of higher education. Through our strategic framework we aim to: 

  • Remove barriers to postsecondary completion - We bolster programs that directly support learner success by meeting the unique needs, goals and aspirations of today’s diverse learner populations. 
  • Build the capacity of organizations, institutions and systems - We strengthen the capacity of higher education institutions, systems, and other support and service organizations to improve outcomes for today’s learners and evolve to meet the changing needs of learners. 
  • Transform the postsecondary ecosystem - We support large-scale, cross-sector collaborations and innovations that have the potential to transform the postsecondary ecosystem in service of more equitable outcomes for the learners of today and tomorrow. 

How might strategically responsive grants evolve into initiatives in light of the North Star?  

The Foundation prioritizes strategically responsive grantmaking and investing to maintain flexibility amidst a changing postsecondary landscape while funding innovative projects that may fall outside one of our six established initiatives. Our learning and evaluation (L&E) team partners with our program team to analyze learnings from our grantees and investees, explore developments in the field, and identify trends and themes that emerge across the portfolio to inform potential future initiatives. For example, in 2023 the L&E and program teams evaluated ECMC Foundation’s previous and current grant-funded projects in rural areas, consulted experts and suggested key metrics to inform the development of the Rural Impact Initiative. 

Research on social and economic mobility from Raj Chetty focuses on expanded access to social capital as being THE critical factor that best improves outcomes for underserved populations. Is ECMC Foundation looking at that research when looking at supporting systemic change? 

The Foundation looks at this body of work and other research when evaluating factors that improve outcomes for underserved learners. 

How much of your funding will be invested in postsecondary institutions vs. nonprofits?  

ECMC Foundation does not have a set amount of funding allocated for specific sectors. We make grants and program-related investments for mission-aligned projects, guided by our North Star and strategic framework. We also respond to the needs of the field and accept letters of inquiry on an ongoing basis. 

Will the Foundation continue to prioritize project-based funding vs. general operating or programmatic support?  

We generally do not fund general operating grants. If you believe you have a project that meets one of our three strategic priorities, please use the process outlined on our How to Apply page.