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Answering the call: Kresge’s Education Program’s grantmaking priorities for 2022


Since spring 2020, the world’s higher education institutions have shifted dramatically. From in-person lectures and seminars – instructional modes “perfected” centuries ago – to remote education. Now, almost two years later, the initial shock of the pandemic has waned but the need to constantly adjust and shift has not.

With these shifts, however, higher education inadvertently put into crystal clear focus the many students who lack the basic tools and resources needed to succeed. The increase in college enrollment typically seen during recessions not only failed to materialize in fall 2020 but declined significantly, particularly at community colleges and among Black and Brown students. New data published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports a 2.7% drop in total college enrollment in the fall of 2021 or a decline of 476,100 fewer students. Building on the decrease in enrollment in 2020, we now have more than one million missing postsecondary students. This tracks with significantly fewer students taking advantage of federal funds like Pell grants.

We have also witnessed a reckoning of a different sort. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered in Minneapolis. His tragic death underscored how systemic racism is often at the heart of why so many people of color don’t have access to our society’s resources. Throughout 2021, we supported equity-driven efforts that responded to challenges students, institutions and cities faced. While we did fund several new-to-our-portfolio entities, we primarily focused on deepening existing grantmaking and investing in partners that we believe must be sustained to address the current era’s crisis. We did this by focusing on grants that would: help mitigate declines in first-time college enrollment; strengthen college promise programs; sustain, and secure equity-driven student success solutions; prioritize student persistence and support comebacker and transfer students.

Looking to the future

Increasing urban postsecondary access and success while reducing inequitable student outcomes remains the team’s core focus and the measure by which we assess our work. While our overall strategy remains the same, the urgencies of the COVID-19 pandemic and our national racial reckoning require that we adjust our tactics to respond to the call for greater equity and support. As such, we’ve identified these priorities for 2022:

  1. Respond to the negative effects of COVID-19. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not yet behind us and has already profoundly affected students in ways that truly won’t be realized for years to come. In 2022 we will work to further support organizations working to address the myriad ways in which higher education has been affected, from enrollment declines and struggles to transition to college, to Comebackers and transfer policies.
  2. Build on opportunities created by COVID stimulus and other laws to leverage government funds to promote evidence-driven, equity-minded higher education reform. With many states’ budgets stronger than they have been in years, higher education has an opportunity to make long-overdue adjustments to how it treats and supports students, especially by listening to student voices and removing the often-racialized structural barriers that have historically undermined equity and prevented students from succeeding.
  3. Promote student voice in higher education reform. We’ve been encouraged by the number of students and advocates centering student experiences as the basis for changes. Going into 2022 we will encourage grantees to listen to student voices to ensure that proposed solutions and programs reflect student feedback and experience, from challenges with hunger or mental health to college affordability and access to polling places.
  4. Capitalize on the growing higher education reform movement. Increasing numbers of higher education leaders believe the sector needs to change to succeed.  We are eager to see how we can support leaders to make changes that better serve students in the 21st century, from affordability to how students are supported on campus and in the classroom.

William F.L. Moses is the Managing Director of Kresge’s Education Program. Follow him on Twitter @_billmoses.