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Focus Area

Aligning and Strengthening Urban Higher Education Ecosystems

When educational institutions and urban systems collaborate to put students’ needs first, more students persist and succeed in college.

Students living with low incomes often attend college in urban areas and can be stymied by nonacademic or off-campus barriers to success. This focus area works to eliminate those barriers. The urban higher education ecosystem, or UHEE, consists of the many interconnected sectors and systems that together impact student outcomes. These sectors and systems include: higher education, K-12 schools, businesses and employers, government agencies and departments, nonprofit social service providers, housing, food, child care, transit, health care, college access nonprofits, philanthropy and youth development, among others. We embrace a holistic, place-based approach to help strengthen these ecosystems by encouraging cross-sector partnerships.

Well-Functioning Ecosystems

We seek to encourage colleges and universities to engage with other institutions, nonprofits, government agencies, school districts and employers to increase the number of students who earn a high-quality degree or credential.

We focus our work on three special geographic interest areas:

  • The Kresge Foundation has three focus cities: Detroit, Memphis and New Orleans.
  • The Education Program has four focus states: California, Florida, Michigan and Texas.
  • The Education Program also partners with educational institutions in South Africa.

We advance this focus area through grantmaking and, at the same time, learn from our grantees to inform future investments. We are particularly interested in understanding how cities can use collective action to strengthen urban higher ecosystems and the specific strategies used to improve college access and completion.