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The Kresge Foundation adds higher education funding stream to target student success in cities

Education, General Foundation News

DETROIT — With a goal of better aligning the actors within the comprehensive landscape of civic, social, business and educational institutions that affect postsecondary student success within cities, the Kresge Foundation Education Program today announced a new area of funding that will help improve rates of low-income students obtaining high-quality higher education credentials beyond high school.

The new funding area, Aligning and Strengthening the Urban Higher Education Ecosystem, refers to the various interconnected institutions and city services that affect college attainment: from colleges and universities, to nonprofit organizations, employers, K-12 school districts and government agencies. The ecosystem also includes systems such as housing, transportation, food, financial aid, and childcare. 

The mission is to catalyze these disparate agencies and systems to work together more intentionally across an urban geographic area with a shared goal of graduating a significantly larger number of students.   

“Through our work, we’ve seen that low-income students in urban areas are most often going to college close to home,” said William Moses, managing director of Kresge’s Education Program. “They often struggle to balance their studies with work and family responsibilities. They rely on public transportation and require financial aid and other social supports.”

Just 1 in 10 students from low-income families earn a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to half of all people from higher income families, according to a 2014 report from The White House.

“We need a system that understands these intertwined challenges and works across sectors to help students succeed. What we have now – a sink or swim mentality and silos of support — is not working,” Moses said.

The Kresge Foundation works to expand opportunity for low-income people in America’s cities. Its Education Program promotes postsecondary access and success for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented student, and recently awarded three grants totaling $1.1 million in this new funding area.

The Foundation awarded a joint $600,000 grant to the Community Growth Educational Foundation-Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (LA Chamber).

The LA Chamber has been a national leader in promoting local postsecondary access and success, especially among low-income and under-represented people of color. The LA Chamber will help the ACCE strengthen and align cross-sectoral efforts (K-12 districts, postsecondary educational institutions, businesses, philanthropy, government and nonprofits) across the country to increase local postsecondary attainment. 

Specifically, ACCE will support business chambers across the nation to:

  • Expand interest in local collective impact solutions to educational attainment;
  • Provide technical assistance;
  • Elevate chamber champions already engaged in cross-sectoral partnerships; and
  • Build a peer network of like-minded chambers. 

“Business chambers are an important constituency within urban higher education ecosystems,” Moses said. “This grant is intended to position chambers to be partners with higher education institutions to better align with local workforce needs.”

The second investment is a $300,000 grant to Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich. The grant will allow Macomb to work with the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University’s Teachers College, the national leader in this field, on a research study to understand different types of transfer students, their success rates at various destinations within an urban area, and the factors that influence their success and failure.

“Macomb County is one of the nation’s most populous counties without a four-year institution within its borders,” said Caroline Altman Smith, senior program officer on The Kresge Foundation Education Team. “So there isn’t one obvious transfer destination; there are many different places Macomb students consider as transfer destinations. Markets with this many potential pathways for students in cities are not well understood. This research will help reveal what works and what doesn’t to help students in these thick transfer markets transition to a four-year college to complete their degree.”

The final investment is a $200,000 grant to the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, which includes universities in Florida’s three biggest largest areas — Florida International University (Miami), the University of Central Florida (Orlando) and the University of South Florida (Tampa).

Together, these universities serve more than 60 percent of Florida’s public college-going population, 70 percent of the state’s minority students enrolled in public four-year colleges, and 25 percent of its first-generation students. The consortium formed in 2014 with a focus to help more students graduate, which will thereby improve economic development throughout Florida.

The three universities have collectively committed more than $1 million to the consortium. The Kresge grant will help the consortium expand its use of:

  • Predictive analytics to improve the institutions’ ability to identify and provide timely and customized student support;
  • High-tech pathways that include early alerts and systems that empower students with the technological tools needed to track their progress through programs of study;
  • Personalized academic success coaching, mentoring and advising; and
  • Internship and practicum programs for students to prepare them to meet workforce needs in the three metropolitan areas.

The new focus area on urban higher education ecosystems is a natural evolution of the Foundation’s work, said Rip Rapson, Kresge’s President & CEO. The Foundation has funded higher education access and success efforts since 2008.

“Our work in higher education has always centered on improving outcomes for underrepresented people,” Rapson said. “This new focus area reinforces our Foundation-wide focus on cities. We believe that bringing leaders from across one city together to take collective responsibility for college success will accelerate the growth of opportunity and the type of change we want to see.”