123 posts categorized "Higher Education"

Leading and succeeding during a crisis

September 02, 2020

Diversity_business_people_hands_pxfuelIn the summer of 1999, Michigan State University launched the Campaign for MSU with the aim of raising $1.12 billion, the most audacious fundraising campaign in its history. A few months in, I was recruited to lead fundraising efforts for the university's Libraries, Computing, and Technology department.

I had been working in Los Angeles for several years in various development roles at the California State University system and saw the position at MSU as a logical next step, one that afforded a number of career development opportunities. As I began to get comfortable in my new role, it became clear that the traditional fundraising playbook was no longer as relevant as it had once been. The department needed an approach that combined equal parts creativity, entrepreneurial risk-taking, and a willingness to experiment. After all, we were competing with other departments and professional schools at the university, each commanding a unique loyalty and importance in the eyes of their alumni. So during football season, we capitalized on our prime location within earshot of Spartan Stadium by inviting alumni and established donors and prospects to a tailgate party. Librarians from the university would be on hand to answer questions, marketing materials and campaign flyers would be distributed, and relationships with new and sustaining donors would be forged and strengthened.

And then September 11 happened. Until then I had never been in a position to lead others during a crisis. It's one thing to come up with a creative campaign and see it through from start to finish, accepting the risks and owning the results. But what had been a competition of sorts with other university departments for scarce dollars changed abruptly after the attacks.

As I worked alongside colleagues in other departments in the days that followed, my mindset shifted from competition to collaboration. Regardless of the task at hand, the question I kept asking myself was: How can I fulfill my duties and help my colleagues be successful?

One of the keys to success in higher education development work is traveling around the country to meet donors in person and earn their trust. But in the weeks and months after 9/11 some at the university were understandably reluctant to get on a plane.

Our solution to the problem was to pursue an approach that emphasized fundraising for the university as a whole, as opposed to fundraising for individual departments. And what quickly became apparent in my in-person visits and phone calls with high-net-worth alumni was their deep, unabashed appreciation for the fact that departments that sometimes competed with each other for precious resources were now collaborating. We were a single team with a single mission: strengthen the university we worked for and loved.

Learning to collaborate during a crisis was a key building block in my leadership development. And taking collective action to achieve a unifying goal while keeping the best interests of one's colleagues in mind has never been more important than it is today.

At the Gary Sinise Foundation, where I serve as chief operating officer, the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to adapt our business model to ensure continuity in our mission — serving the nation's military, veterans, first-responders, and their families. In coordination with the marketing and communications department, we launched a dedicated campaign called Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service. Donations made to the campaign have bolstered our First Responders Outreach program and enabled us to increase the number of grants we award to underfunded fire and police departments. Since we launched the campaign on April 1, we've raised and distributed more than $1.43 million, enabling sixty-one first-responder departments to purchase 5,650 pieces of personal protective equipment and gear. Financial assistance, grocery gift cards, and other forms of support have reached countless individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.

We've also expanded our Serving Heroes initiative, delivering thousands of additional free meals to healthcare workers at hospitals across the country as well as service members and their families at military bases in the U.S. and overseas.

The ongoing success of the campaign is largely attributable to our employees making a seamless transition to working remotely. We decided at the outset of the pandemic to shift staff and resources to departments in need; for example, our events team was called on to support the outreach department, which fields dozens of calls a day and supports an untold number of veterans, Gold Star families, and others seeking various forms of assistance.

In the months since COVID-19 upended our routines, many of our employees, empowered by leadership, their peers, and their own initiative, have developed new skills, revealing unknown talents and interests that benefit not only the organization but their future careers.

As the public health emergency continues to impact communities across the United States, nonprofit organizations are dealing with multiple crises affecting not only their day-to-day operations but their internal and external stakeholders as well.

Although the economy is slowly recovering, millions of Americans remain unemployed and Americans' mental health and well-being remains precarious. And with recent protests reawakening the nation's conscience, some kind of tipping point seems to be near.

Working to address these crises at both the individual and organizational levels has forced me to evolve as a leader — one who grounds her actions in empathy — and has reinforced for me the values of collaboration and personal empowerment. As was the case some twenty years ago, the question I continue to ask myself is: How can I fulfill my duties and help my colleagues be successful?

(Photo credit: pxfuel)

Elizabeth_Fields_PhilanTopic

Elizabeth Fields is COO and Brandon Black is  senior communications writer at the Gary Sinise Foundation.

[Review] The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America

August 06, 2020

The merit myth_coverDespite the frequently repeated claim that higher education in the United States is a meritocractic system, college is not the great equalizer it’s touted to be. Indeed, long-standing inequities in the United States are often reflected in and perpetuated by our institutions of higher education. Drawing on insights from sociology, education, economics, and history, The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America explores the roots of these practices and policies and shows how they continue to play out today.

The book’s three authors have all spent decades researching and writing about education policy. Anthony Carnevale is the director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, a nonprofit research and policy institute focused on the relationship between education, career qualifications, and current workforce demands. Jeff Strohl is the center’s director of research and spends much of his time examining how education impacts career opportunities. And Peter Schmidt, an award-winning journalist and author of Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War Over College Affirmative Action, serves as a deputy editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education and previously covered education policy and access at Education Week.

To understand higher education in the United States, they write, we must first look at the factors that contribute to the success of certain individuals and groups as they navigate the education system and then enter the workforce — as well as the lack of success experienced by others. When we do, it becomes obvious that characterizations of higher education in the U.S. as a meritocracy makes it easy for too many to blame individuals for their lack of success while ignoring the fact that the system as designed creates inequality at every level.

In support of that argument, the authors spend the first few chapters offering an analysis of the interlocking mechanisms — social, political, cultural, economic — that perpetuate disparities in access to higher education. Along the way, they pose several key questions: What is the role of higher education in American life? How do, and should, we define success? And who is deserving of the limited resources available to the system? Such questions are meant, among other things, to prod the reader to think about familiar admissions practices — a reliance on standardized tests, in-person interviews, an emphasis on extracurricular activities — that historically were rooted in an unabashed elitism and have been shown to have little value in predicting student success.

The authors further note that the increase in higher education enrollment has been driven to a large degree by the growth of public universities, which today enroll roughly three-quarters of college students in the U.S. White students from wealthy backgrounds, on the other hand, are the majority at many of the most selective colleges and universities in the country, and those colleges and universities receive a far greater share of the private dollars and resources dedicated to higher education, enabling them to invest far more than less-well-resourced schools in the success of the students they enroll — and reinforce the all-too-familiar "separate and unequal" dynamic that has characterized American education over the last hundred and fifty years.

Because the most selective private colleges and universities typically have the largest endowments, they also are able to compete vigorously for applicants with the best grades or test scores and most interesting extracurricular accomplishments, leading to a largely class-based stratification of schools into tiers — most selective, selective, and so on — that has become more pronounced in recent decades and increasingly difficult to overcome. For Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl, the solution to the problem is obvious: if we want to raise graduation and retention rates and start to narrow inequality in America, we need to devote more of our limited resources to middle-tier schools.

Unfortunately, the immense pressures from competing interests that higher education must deal with makes that unlikely to happen any time soon. Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl argue compellingly that all these factors— from inequitable admission practices, to universities operating like for-profit businesses and/or subsidizing education for the wealthy, to first-generation and underresourced students being deterred by the increasingly complicated admissions process — have created a system that is anything but a meritocracy and is teetering on the verge of collapse.

But there's hope. The last chapter of The Merit Myth offers a number of proposals for how the system can be improved and made more equitable. They include calls for building a leadership pipeline in higher education that more closely reflects the diversity of the U.S. population, ending reliance on standardized tests scores and legacy admissions, redirecting resources to schools where those resources would have the greatest impact, and making fourteen years of education the new "normal." While many of these reforms require changes at the university and legislative levels, they also require that we think carefully and redefine our collective goals for higher education in America.

In providing a historical context for current debates about higher education and in considering all the many factors involved in making education policy, the authors provide a well-rounded picture of our current system. If the prose gets a bit dense at times, it is merely testament to just how complicated the challenge and potential solutions are. Ultimately, Carnevale, Schmidt, and Strohl have provided a great service by reframing how we should think about the challenge and giving readers hope that real change is possible.

Amelia Becker, an intern with the Communications department at Candid, currently is a junior at Tufts University studying sociology and economics.

Students still need emergency aid. Funders must step up to fill the gap.

July 24, 2020

Mother_college_student_son_GettyImages_PhilanTopicjpgIn response to the coronavirus pandemic, colleges, nonprofits, government, and philanthropy moved quickly to disburse emergency aid to students, many of whom found themselves without reliable access to food, housing, and technology after their campuses were forced to close. And with job losses affecting both working students and families, that support may have temporarily allayed the fears of students who wondered whether they would ever be able to return to school.

But for two groups of students — those ineligible for federal financial assistance, including undocumented students, and those, like student-parents, with additional financial needs — much-needed relief was in short supply. When government is either unwilling or unable to support students working to make their lives and communities better, philanthropic institutions have a duty to fill the gap. As a new school year marked by uncertainty draws closer, more emergency aid is needed, especially for students whose educational aspirations may slip through the widening cracks created by the pandemic.

While the federal CARES Act provided $6.3 billion in emergency grant funds for colleges and universities to distribute to students, the U.S. Department of Education's original guidance for the funds left out undocumented students, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and international students, creating confusion for months and in some cases slowing the distribution of aid to other students.

What's more, the funds provided by the CARES Act could only be used for food, housing, and expenses directly related to the cost of attendance, leaving many students without adequate support to continue their education. For student-parents, in particular — who need to support children as well as themselves — expenses almost always exceed the assistance provided by their schools. Even before the pandemic, the cost of food, housing, and child care — which in many states is costlier than tuition or rent — made it difficult for student-parents to complete a degree. Single mothers, for instance, are more likely than any other group of women to have started but not finished college and just 8 percent of single student-moms graduate on time.

As more funders and institutions of higher education begin to examine how their investments can be used to advance racial equity, it's also important to note that 40 percent of all Black women in college are mothers. Clearly, success in closing racial and gender equity gaps in college success will remain elusive if we ignore the needs of student-parents.

DACA recipients enroll in college at about the same rate as their peers, but they are four times less likely to complete a degree. They also are ineligible for Pell grants or other forms of federal financial aid, which makes the high cost of tuition a significant barrier to their ability to complete their education. And while mental health issues disproportionately impact undocumented students' postsecondary success, many undocumented students are unable to qualify for affordable health insurance.

With limited emergency aid available to student-parents and unavailable to most undocumented students, the long-term success of both groups is in doubt and should be a priority for philanthropy going forward.

There's no shortage of research on the economic and societal benefits of investments in these groups. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has increased high school graduation and college enrollment rates and raised productivity and earnings among DACA recipients. Immigrants and international students make significant contributions to the U.S. economy as well as the innovations needed to address the challenges we face and keep the country competitive in a globalized economy.

Likewise, student-parents are risers and earn better grades than non-parenting students. Investing in their success not only helps them, it also benefits their children. Parents who complete a degree have access to higher-paying jobs and, on average, double their income over the course of their working lives, while studies have shown that even a $1,000 increase in salary can result in as much as a 27 percent increase in a child's cognitive development. We all benefit when committed learners are given an opportunity to realize their potential.

Philanthropy is uniquely suited to address these gaps in emergency aid funding — and many funders are already leading the way. In California, the College Futures Foundation and Mission Asset Fund created a statewide emergency aid fund that prioritizes undocumented students, foster youth, and those who are housing insecure. Edquity, which both of our organizations — Imaginable Futures and ECMC Foundation — support, joined Course Hero and Believe in Students to allow anyone to contribute to a pool of emergency funds that will be distributed to students not eligible for CARES Act aid.

Our own organizations invested in emergency aid efforts when the outbreak and subsequent spread of the virus forced campuses to close: Imaginable Futures targeted $400,000 of its emergency aid funding to student-parents and, because they have higher living expenses, required that funding be set at least $1,200 per student-parent, while ECMC Foundation made more than $1.5 million in direct emergency aid grants that went primarily to students who are not eligible for federal financial aid.

Still, as uncertainty looms over the upcoming school year, the educational dreams of 454,000 undocumented students and nearly four million student-parents hang in the balance. With the crisis likely to extend into the fall, we need more philanthropic investment in emergency aid for students left behind by federal programs. Educational equity, economic mobility, breaking the cycle of poverty, racial justice — none of these ambitious goals are realistic if students do not have the resources to succeed.

Undocumented students, DACA recipients, student-parents attend classes and study while navigating family care, financial insecurity, housing instability, and hunger. They fight for their education and their future every day. It is time we fight with them.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Vinice davis_jessica_haselton_PhilanTopic

Vinice Davis is a venture partner at Imaginable Futures and an investor in Edquity. Jessica Haselton is director of Education Innovation Ventures at ECMC Foundation and an investor in and board member of Edquity.

Addressing Student Debt Through Philanthropy

February 04, 2020

GettyImages-1042539442_student_debt_piggybankIn an age of mega-donors and flashy facilities, higher education philanthropy increasingly is about bigness. Philanthropists and foundations scramble to put their names on buildings, endow chairs in popular departments, and fund the next scientific breakthrough.

Investing in higher education often is a great use of philanthropic dollars. But high-dollar gifts aren't the only big figures in higher education. These days, too many college students are burdened by the millstone of unconscionable debt. Indeed, as we begin a new decade, cumulative student debt in the United States has reached $1.6 trillion.

And debt is not the only financial challenge college students face. Once you factor in the supplementary or "incidental" costs of attending college, today's college students face a kind of death by a thousand cuts. Textbook costs are up 87 percent since 2006 — more than any other college-related expense. The cost of essentials like laptops, transportation, and living expenses often outstrip students' ability to meet them. Students are encouraged to prepare for the real world after graduation by taking low- or unpaid summer internships — another expense many simply cannot afford. As higher ed technology and course software changes, the costs add up.

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Looking to Africa's Future: The Promise of Transnational Ties

January 14, 2020

African_gradNearly seven years ago, when I became president of Yale University, five of the top twelve — and eleven of the top twenty — of the world's fastest growing economies were in Africa, even though the continent faced serious challenges. Amid discussions of sobering events and hopes for the future, Yale took a stand for the promise of education, scholarship, and research — a promise that is particularly significant across Africa, home to a vibrant and growing population of young people. That year, 2013, I launched the Yale Africa Initiative as a way to create new partnerships between Yale and institutions on the continent. 

Africa's economic development remains impressive, but even more spectacular is the growth and promise of its youth. The continent's youth population is expected to increase by 522 million over the next three decades, while in the rest of the world, over the same period, it will decline by 220 million. By 2050, one-third of people on the planet age twenty-four or younger will call the continent home. As they come of age, these young people will take their place among the world's leaders and innovators — meaning we all have an interest in Africa's future.

As a university professor, I am focused on higher education, though primary and secondary education are, of course, critical. Higher education is essential to economic growth, and it also delivers a broad range of benefits, including progress toward gender equality, improvements in individual and public health, strengthened civic  institutions, and enhanced creativity and skills among those who serve society. 
 

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Weekend Link Roundup (January 4-5, 2020)

January 05, 2020

5W4htUpm6GwJkWfemfytV4-1024-80Happy New Year! Before you get back to work for real, check out our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Climate Change

To see what climate change could portend for ordinary Americans, look no further than California, where over the last decade, as the Los Angeles Times' Deborah Netburn writes, "[t]he wildfires were more destructive. The drought was the longest on record. And the storms, when they finally came, unleashed more water than [the] dams could contain."

Fundraising

Ready for another year of fundraising? Future Fundraising Now's Jeff Brooks wants to help and has pulled together a list of his favorite fundraising blogs

And fundraising expert Pamela Grow shares eleven things you can do to make 2020 your most successful fundraising year yet.

Giving

Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther shares the thinking behind the charitable donations he and his wife, Karen, made in 2019.

In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nonprofit CEOs Alejandra Castillo, Susan Dreyfus, James Firman, Brian Gallagher, Gail McGovern, and Jonathan Reckford make the case that, after nearly two years of data, the evidence is clear: charitable giving is down, and changes in the 2017 tax law are to blame.

Global Health

There are only eight organizations on charity rating site GiveWell's list of top global charities and one of them is the San Jose-based Fistula Foundation. In a new post on the GiveWell blog, Catherine Hollander updates the organization's work on the foundation, which it continues to consider "a top charity contender."

Health

Commonwealth Fund president David Blumenthal (with research help from Gabriella Aboulafia) reviews the top developments in health care in 2019 on the fund's To The Point blog. 

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We Must Act Now to End Students’ Basic Needs Insecurity — Together

December 03, 2019

Food insecurity on campusAs hundreds of thousands of students scramble to submit their college applications, many are thinking beyond the daunting cost of tuition and student fees to how they will pay for their everyday necessities once they've arrived on campus. With nearly half of college students at two- and four-year institutions experiencing food insecurity and more than half struggling with housing insecurity, it goes without saying that gaps in basic-needs provision are a major issue impacting today's college students — one that requires a systemic solution.

Examples of expenses that can derail a student's progression to a degree include emergency car repairs, rent increases, or a sudden illness. Such needs and emergencies often can be addressed, however, by immediate direct supports, including emergency-aid grants, food pantries, rapid rehousing services, and campus partnerships with community and government agencies aimed at ensuring students are supported throughout their academic journey.

Colleges are well positioned to be points of entry to a coordinated suite of social services for students. Working in tandem with community and government partners, colleges can use their own resources and design more student-centered services to cover students’ basic needs and keep them on track to their degrees.

For instance, in Washington state, the United Way of King County is working in partnership with local colleges to develop on-campus Benefits Hubs, which are designed to connect students to public benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as community partners that can provide immediate resources and financial assistance for housing-related emergencies.

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This Is America

October 15, 2019

America and MomAmerica, my youngest cousin, started college in August. She is the daughter of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States with hopes of building a new life, a life better than the one offered by their home country, Mexico. America was born in the U.S. and is a dedicated student. She has committed herself to studying hard because she wants to fulfill her dreams and her parents' dreams — dreams for which they have sacrificed much. By graduating from high school, America is one step closer to her dream. This is her story, but it's also the story of hundreds of thousands of low-income first-generation students of color who dream of success and fight against odds and unfamiliar systems to keep their dream (and their families' dreams) alive.

For many students like America, the path to a college degree is difficult. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, state funding for higher education has declined as a share of the budget over the past four decades while tuition has tripled at both the UC and CSU systems over the past twenty years. A 2018 study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento found that a large majority of community college students fail to obtain a degree or transfer to a four-year institution. The same study found large disparities between minority and Caucasian students, with only 26 percent of African-American students and 22 percent of Latino students earning a degree or certification or successfully transferring to a four-year university within six years. That's compared to 37 percent of Caucasian students. In 2018, the CSU system reported that only 25 percent of first-time freshmen finished in four years, while only 38 percent of transfer students attained their degree in two years. Although California spends more on financial aid per Pell Grant recipient than any other state, it's clear that more needs to be done to assist the 48 percent of students who identify as students of color and the 41 percent who are first-generation college-goers. Simply put, they face more barriers to college completion than other students. Indeed, according to CSU's 2018 Basic Needs Study, students who identified as black/African-American and as the first in their families to attend college experienced the highest rates of food insecurity (65.9 percent) and homelessness (18 percent) of any group. All these students, like America, deserve a level playing field and a fair shot at success.

East Los Angeles

America is a hopeful teenager who aspires to become a lawyer. She graduated from my alma mater, James A Garfield High School in East L.A. Think El Mercadito, Oscar de la Hoya, Whittier Boulevard. Think Stand and Deliver, the story of Jaime Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos in the movie). Yeah, that East L.A. and that Garfield High School. That's the environment in which America grew up.

East L.A. is an amazing community, but it faces many challenges, including a more than 22 percent poverty rate, nearly double the national average. It also struggles with low educational attainment, with only 8.3 percent of the population holding a bachelor's degree or higher. Forty-three percent of the population possess no degree at all. The neighborhood is also plagued by gangs and gang-related violence. My niece is living proof, however, that East L.A. is still a place where resilience and persistence can lead to success and the American dream.

America's Family and the Challenges of Financial Aid

After spending her childhood and teen years in East L.A., America was accepted at UC Merced. While not her first choice, the school offered the best financial aid package. Neither her mom nor dad received high school diplomas, and when America was applying to colleges they struggled to navigate a system they were not familiar with. Despite the challenges, all the necessary financial aid documents were completed and submitted.

America's financial aid package included $5,500 in loans. Of that, America and her parents decided to accept only $1,000, opting to figure out how to source the remaining $4,500 on their own. Although $5,500 might seem affordable, it's only a best-guess as to what is needed for the first year, and no one knows whether the amount will change in year two, three, or four. In addition, $5,000 of America's financial aid package was tied to work study. If she chose not to work, then the $4,500 already picked up by her family would balloon to $9,500. America's family's annual income is $30,000. And it gets more complicated when you consider that America's parents also pay $2,000 a year for her older sister to attend East Los Angeles College.

In her book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and The Betrayal of the American Dream, Sara Goldrick-Rab examines the conundrum faced by first-generation college students who apply for financial aid. In the book, Goldrick-Rab details a study conducted by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab that asked 1,110 students how long it took them to complete financial aid paperwork. Almost a third (29 percent) said it took them one to two hours to complete, while 20 percent said it required more than two hours, with one in three of those students saying the person who helped them complete the paperwork had not attended college. Such was the case for America. "Si, un monton de papeleo, nunca en mi vida me habian pedido tanto papeleo," America's mom told me. ("Never in my life have I been asked for so many documents.")

Fulfillment of a Dream

In July, America excitedly told her parents that UC Merced had invited her to a new student orientation. Her parents were quick to ask why it cost $100 per person to attend. They asked me, her cousin, to go with them because, as America's dad said, "Pues es que no conocemos por alla," ("We're unfamiliar with stuff over there.") I gladly accepted and headed out with them on a Friday afternoon for the Saturday session. The trip came at an opportune time. As a program officer at the Michelson 20MM Foundation, I work on issues of access, success, and affordability for underrepresented college students, with a focus on students struggling with basic needs

When we finally got to Merced, America and her parents were bright eyed, taking in a new landscape and imagining how America soon would be making it her home. They were excited for her and glad for the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the drive, knowing they would be coming up to bring their daughter home for the holidays and other occasions. America gently reminded them she only planned to come home twice a year. I didn't attend the orientation, as I figured it would be good for America and her parents to experience the day on their own.

When I picked them up, they were beaming with optimism and ready to share everything they had learned. Like any good recap at a gathering of Mexicans, they started by describing the food. But the question they were most interested in hearing an answer to was whether UC Merced took attendance and whether the school would notify parents if their daughter stopped attending classes. They knew America was bound to grow increasingly independent, but they also felt it would be good policy for UC Merced to communicate with parents in such situations. America laughed — not out of frustration but in appreciation of her parent's "old schoolness" and the love they were demonstrating by readily accepting things they didn't fully understand but knew would be good for her.

America started UC Merced last month and is beyond excited. She embraces her status as an underdog and relishes the challenge. More than anything, she does so because she's seen her parents beat the odds to give her the opportunity. If you drive through East L.A. today, you'll see eight-foot-high banners on lampposts lining major thoroughfares like Atlantic Boulevard. In 2016, Garfield H.S., in partnership with local businesses, educational organizations, and elected officials, obtained permits to display pictures of Garfield graduates holding the pennants and wearing the sweaters of the colleges they were leaving home to attend. At the top of each banner it reads "Garfield is college bound," while across the bottom it says "The pride of East L.A." America is on one of those banners, and her parents could not be prouder.

In the months and years to come, America and her family, like many other first-generation low-income students of color and their families, will navigate unfamiliar new systems together, tread new paths together, laugh at what they don't understand together, and most likely cry whenever they are not together. For now, they happily cling to their recent victory, America's high school graduation and the memory of their embrace after America walked across the stage to receive her diploma.

What's in a hug for America's parents at graduation? Sighs of relief after years of sacrifice. Memories of a border crossing filled with fear that led to an indescribable moment of joy. The fulfillment of a dream that first took shape in a small town in Mexico, thousands of miles away, and seemingly thousands of years ago. The satisfaction of knowing that waking up at 4:00 a.m. every day, day after day, to work a low-paying job was worth it. The satisfaction of knowing that in four years, despite the challenges, "primeramente Dios," ("God willing"), they'll be waking up at 4:00 a.m. to drive up the 99 freeway to see their daughter walk across another stage.

Miguel_leon_for_PhilanTopicMiguel León is a program officer at the Michelson 20MM Foundation.

5 Questions for...Chera Reid, Director of Strategic Learning, Research and Evaluation, Kresge Foundation

September 16, 2019

As director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation for the Kresge Foundation, Chera Reid leads Kresge's efforts to use data to inform its grantmaking and social investing strategies, partner with grantees to ensure that the foundation's evaluation efforts support organizational and community needs, and shape how the foundation advances the fields in which it works. Previously an officer in Kresge's Education program, Reid has long focused professionally on issues of access and equity in institutions and systems and in her current role is leading the foundation's efforts to apply an equity lens to its evaluation activities, place-based practice, and collaborations across different fields and sectors.

After earning a bachelor's degree in English and African American Studies at the University of Virginia and a master's from the University of Michigan, Reid served in leadership positions at the New York branch of America Needs You and the Phillips Academy Andover Institute for Recruitment of Teachers while earning a PhD in higher education from New York University.

PND spoke to Reid about Kresge's transition from a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on using a variety of tools to help grantees build stronger communities, the challenges of equity work, and how she stays upbeat and positive in challenging times.

Headshot_chera_reidPhilanthropy News Digest: You were named Kresge's first director of strategic learning, research, and evaluation in 2015, when Kresge was just a few years into its transition from being a foundation known primarily for making capital challenge grants to one focused on helping grantees build stronger communities. What role did the Strategic Learning Research, and Evaluation program play in that transition?

Chera Reid: When the foundation was primarily a capital challenge grantmaker, and we'd ask whether a project had been completed, a grantee would send in a photo of the completed physical structure. The other piece of it was financial. Kresge only released capital challenge grant funds when campaigns were nearing their finish line, which went a long way to ensuring the success of the grant.

The work I've been doing since I've been in my current role is about creating an intentional, learning organization. By virtue of that charge, the work I'm engaged in is about organizational culture change and about learning not just for the sake of feeling good about ourselves and to say we're doing it — it's about action and informing our decision making going forward. And accountability now is more about holding ourselves accountable to people in the communities in which we work and holding one another accountable to our mission.

What has changed at the foundation as we moved to a more strategic approach over the last decade or so is that we have expanded our view of our role. Kresge as a capital challenge grantmaker was an excellent thing. We were brilliant at doing one thing: helping to build libraries, hospitals, and educational institutions. But today we're using a more complete toolkit of philanthropic resources. And that means we are table-setting, we're bringing actors together from disparate fields, from the edges of practice and at the neighborhood level, and saying, "How about it? What do you think you can create together?"

We're also bringing different forms of capital to the table and saying, "How can we remove some of the risk associated with this work? Can we blend different forms of capital to get to the root of what people and communities are saying are their most pressing challenges? And how can we put learning, evaluation, and research to better use?" They’re all tools in our toolkit. By being intentional about using learning and evaluation to inform a more strategic approach to philanthropy, we are committing to doing all the things that philanthropy can and should be doing to drive change.

When Sebastian S. Kresge started the Kresge Foundation in 1924, his directive as to what it should do was really broad: promote human progress. Today, it is about expanding opportunity for low-income people in cities and doing it with an equity lens. And in 2024, the year of our centennial, we'll be asking ourselves, "How did we do? What can we point to that shows the distance we have traveled as an organization in expanding opportunity for low-income people in America's cities? Have we really done it with an equity lens? What is the path we want to chart institutionally as we look beyond 2024." Learning and evaluation are a really important part of that conversation, in that they help us hear the story, give us space to be more reflective, and enable us to look across different bodies of work and imagine the future we are trying to shape and contribute to.

PND: From an evaluation and learning perspective, what are the primary challenges of the foundation's equity work?

CR: Positing that we need to do that work through an equity lens has not been the issue, though that most certainly is not the case across the philanthropic sector. But for Kresge, bringing an equity lens to our practice has been a bridge. It resonates with other grantmakers and helps us come together and say, "Okay, what is it that we really need to learn?"

We try to incorporate the principles of equitable evaluation in whatever we’re working on. Evaluation in service of equity is about asking questions that get to root causes. It's about participant orientation and ownership, and also about ensuring that the work is multiculturally valid.

We do not have it all figured out. It's a challenge. As a sector, philanthropy has been able to work in ways that are not about evaluation in service of a bigger goal; we've been allowed to make evaluation about ourselves. But that is changing. And one thing adopting an equity frame means is that the many consultants we work with as evaluators have a long way to go to meet our goals and aspirations. What do I mean by that? We need more people who bring an equity lens to evaluative thinking, work, and consulting. In some ways, we've created that challenge for ourselves because in the past we did not ask for that kind of skill set. But we need more examples, and we need more of our peers to come forward and say, "This is what we’re trying to do and model." There is definitely a sense of urgency around the challenge within the foundation.

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Charitable Gift or Bribe? Lori Loughlin's Legal Case Rests on Dubious Claim

September 04, 2019

USC_gateLast week, Lori Loughlin, the actress, and her husband, the designer Mossimo Giannulli, may have provided a glimpse of their defense strategy when they appear in court in October in connection with payments they made, say prosecutors, to help their daughters gain entrance to the University of Southern California. Their likely argument: the money wasn't a bribe; it was an act of altruism.

Loughlin's case is part of a larger — and by now, infamous — scandal involving thirty-four parents who were charged last March with paying money to a third party to "facilitate" their kids' admission to elite universities. Fifteen of those parents have pleaded guilty to fraud. One of them, actress Felicity Huffman, has pleaded guilty to paying $15,000 to have her daughter's SAT exam score artificially inflated and is scheduled to be sentenced on September 13. Unlike Huffman, Loughlin and Giannulli, who parted with $500,000, are planning to fight it out in court.

Loughlin's attorney, William Trach of Latham & Watkins, contends the money the government calls a bribe was really a charitable donation. "Checks were made out to USC Athletics and to a fund at USC," he says. "Those checks were cashed by USC." Trach’s logic, apparently: the money was sent to a tax-exempt charitable organization, and the organization put the money into its bank account; therefore, it was a charitable contribution. (Yes, the University of Southern California, with its $5.5 billion endowment, is a tax-exempt charitable organization.)

Money also traveled through another charity, Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), which was established by William "Rick" Singer, the man behind the admissions scheme. Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and is now cooperating with prosecutors. We will likely hear more about KWF during the trial, but one question the prosecution should ask is how much Loughlin and her husband donated to entities not caught up in the scandal. Since their lawyer contends that their donations — that's plural — were in support of opportunities for underprivileged students, it might be helpful to know if the couple supported other, similar causes. In fact, it would provide context for their claim of generosity to know how charitable in general the couple has been over the years.

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Helping California Students Access College Financial Aid

August 09, 2019

FASA_appAs underserved communities continue to struggle, philanthropy is stepping up to ensure that nonprofits serving those communities are able to apply for and receive the support they so desperately need.

The Spark Grant program, a new initiative of the Michelson 20MM Foundation, aims to disrupt the slow and often opaque traditional foundation grant application process. The program gives organizations aligned with Michelson's mission a quick and easy way to apply for grants of up to $25,000. Unlike with a traditional grant, applicants to the Spark Grant program receive a decision on their proposals in just fifteen business days. The rapid turnaround makes Spark Grants particularly well suited to project-based initiatives designed to increase the number of underserved learners enrolled in postsecondary opportunities or help students earn a college or vocational credential that positions them for a well-paying job.

College Affordability

Michelson 20MM is passionate about making higher education more affordable for more people, particularly in this moment, when postsecondary education has never been more critical — or more expensive.

According to Sarah Goldrick-Rab, a professor of sociology at Temple University in Philadelphia, the rising cost of higher education puts college out of reach for many, if not most, students without some form of financial aid.

"The real price of attending college is higher than what colleges care to admit," says Goldrick-Rab. "The solution is making public colleges and universities accessible to everyone, like we do for high school, and operating under the assumption that everyone needs financial help."

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Black Wealth 2020 Adds HBCUs to Its Economic Empowerment Agenda

August 01, 2019

1515184852588The short-term economic impact of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) is $15 billion — rivaling that of corporations such as Bank of America and its more than 177,000 employees.
 
Yet according to the U. S. Department of Education, approximately 60 percent of all black college students have no expectation of a family financial contribution to their education. That's far lower than that for whites, for whom the number is approximately 30 percent. And it's approximately 48 percent for Latinos and 38 percent for Asians.
 
The economic impact of HBCUs, their struggle to stay afloat, and the dire financial disparities faced by HBCU students are the reasons that Black Wealth 2020, a catalyst for black economic equality, recently decided to add HBCUs as a forth leg to its three-pronged approach to growing black wealth (the others are black-owned businesses, black banks, and black homeownership).
 
"We've got to keep on pushing this agenda. And hooking up with HBCUs is a big way of doing that," said Michael Grant, former president of the National Bankers Association and a founder of Black Wealth 2020 in a meeting just before the principals voted unanimously to acknowledge HBCUs as being "central to strengthening the American economy."
 
"If we're serious about building black wealth," Grant added, "how can we not have a focus on our youth and the next generation?"
 
The expansion of the organization's vision was inspired, in part, by a presentation by Dr. Lezli Baskerville, president/CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and a principal of Black Wealth 2020.

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Open Educational Resources: A Viable Alternative in a Changing Landscape

July 17, 2019

Online_texbooksIn May, two of the textbook market's biggest publishers, Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education, announced plans to merge. The merger will lead to the formation of a new company, McGraw Hill, with a market cap of $8.5 billion, rivaling publishing giant Pearson for dominance of the textbook market. Currently, a mere five publishers control more than 80 percent of that market, and the creation of McGraw Hill will further reduce competition.

With textbook prices rising year after year, a merger of this magnitude could spell disaster for students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, textbook prices increased 88 percent between 2006 and 2016. Given the growing monopolization of the textbook market, alternative modes of access such as open educational resources are becoming an urgent priority for schools and students across the country.

Inclusive Access: Part of the Problem

As textbook publishers have seen sales of their print materials decline, they have turned to a new subscription-based model called "inclusive access," in which students pay a flat fee to access educational materials. Inclusive access has been likened to the streaming model increasingly popular in other media, including movies (Netflix) and music (Apple Music). The consumer is no longer purchasing a product but rather digital access to a product for a set period of time.

Publishers tout two major benefits of the inclusive-access model. The first is its ability to provide students with access to educational materials on the first day of class. In the traditional model, students often are forced — due to economic pressures — to wait until after they've received their financial aid packages to order physical textbooks. Inclusive access sidesteps this problem by incorporating the charge as a course fee via the school's billing system.

The second benefit, according to publishers, is that it delivers a "win" for affordability. Students pay a single per-semester fee ranging between $100 and $150 (depending on the publisher). In theory, the fee covers all educational materials used by the student. While the cost may seem reasonable, at least initially, that reasonableness rests on the assumption that instructors will only use materials available through the inclusive access system. If, however, an instructor decides to exercise her academic freedom and chooses a text outside a publisher's inclusive access catalog, an additional financial burden is placed on her students. One can easily imagine a scenario where two of a student's four classes are "inclusive access" and the other two are not, requiring the student to pay for additional texts on top of the per-semester inclusive access fee.

Cengage recently introduced Cengage Unlimited, a platform dedicated to inclusive access that charges $119.99 a semester for access to Cengage's digitized back-catalog. In 2018, McGraw-Hill Education significantly expanded the implementation of its own inclusive-access model. If past trends are any indicator, the price tag associated with both catalogs will increase dramatically post-merger.

The inclusive-access model raises not only pricing concerns but also concerns with respect to student data and privacy. As publishers gravitate toward the model, they are beginning to collect large amounts of data and analytics about students. Indeed, groups like the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) have raised concerns that this data collection — which can include a student's physical location, study habits, and data related to individual learning outcomes — poses privacy risks.

Open Educational Resources: A Viable Alternative?

There is a better alternative. Open educational resources (OER) are freely licensed materials that reside in the public domain and can include textbooks, full courses, tests, software, and more. As the materials are free to use and can be accessed at any time, there is no concern about students not having access on the first day of class. And because the materials can be accessed free of charge, OER delivers on the promise of affordability.

Even better, OER seems to improve student outcomes, with studies attributing a more than 12 percent increase in grades for Pell-eligible students who use open educational resources. When coupled with the fact that 17 percent of underrepresented minority students indicate that the cost of educational materials has forced them to withdraw from a course, OER is the right choice at the right time for today's college students.

With the recently announced merger between two of the largest textbook publishers in the country, concern is growing that prices on all materials provided by publishers, including inclusive access materials, will rise. But if policy makers, educational institutions, and faculty take steps to invest time and money into the creation of high-quality OER, the grip that publishers have on educational materials will weaken. In turn, a higher OER adoption rate will render mergers and the worry about potential price hikes increasingly irrelevant.

Philanthropy can play a role in supporting the expansion of OER and lowering the costs of textbooks. By investing in the field, foundations and other donors can help provide students with access to educational materials and spur their academic success. Foundations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, and the Michelson 20MM Foundation are just a few examples of philanthropies that have funded the growth of OER in recent decades. The field is ripe with opportunity for additional leadership.

Headshot_ryan_Erickson_Kulas_philantopicRyan Erickson-Kulas is program officer of open educational resources at the Michelson 20MM Foundation.

'College Means Hope': A Path Forward for the Justice-Involved

July 12, 2019

Michelson_20MM_smart_justice"Former gang members make incredible students. The same skills that made me a good drug-dealer — resiliency, hustle, determination — I now use on campus to succeed in school," Jesse Fernandez tells the audience attending our panel discussion at this year's Gang Prevention and Intervention Conference in Long Beach.

I was on stage with Jesse as co-moderator for the first education-focused panel in the conference's history. (The Michelson 20MM Foundation convened the panel, tapping Jesse, Taffany Lim of California State University, Los Angeles, and Brittany Morton of Homeboy Industries to share their experiences.) Only 25, he has come a long way from the gang life he once knew. Today, he interns for Homeboy Industries, helping other students on their path to college; has finished an associate's program in Los Angeles; and has studied abroad at Oxford University. He may not look like a typical college student, but he speaks with the certainty and eloquence of someone who has been in school for years.

"College means hope. It means understanding your identity. For me, it was learning about my indigenous heritage, what it means to be Chicano, and how my community has been affected by violence and loss."

I first met Jesse over a lunch of chilaquiles (with salsa verde) and agua fresca (Angela's Green Potion is a "do not miss") at Homegirl Café, an L.A. staple since the 1990s. The café is run by former gang members and offers a safe space for people coming out of prison, providing many of them with their first job and creating a pipeline to sustainable employment. It's so popular that Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and other politicians on the national stage have stopped in for a bite while in town.

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A Conversation With Mark Zuckerman, President, The Century Foundation

May 29, 2019

For Massachusetts folks of a certain age, the name Filene's Basement evokes memories of a crowded emporium where the hunt for bargains, especially on weekends, often resembled competitive sport. The basement was the brainchild of Edward A. Filene, whose father, William, founded Filene's in 1908. It was Edward, however, who recognized that growing numbers of American factory workers represented a new market and persuaded his father to start selling surplus, overstock, and closeout merchandise in the basement of his flagship Downtown Crossing store.

The experiment was a huge success, and the Filenes soon joined the ranks of America’s wealthiest families. In 1919, Ed Filene, already recognized as a progressive business leader, founded the Co-operative League — later renamed the Twentieth Century Fund — one of the first public policy research institutes in the country.

Mark Zuckerman joined TCF — which changed its name to the Century Foundation in the early 2000s — as president in 2015. A veteran of the Obama administration, where he served as Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, leading teams on initiatives to reduce student debt, increase accountability at for-profit educational institutions, reduce workplace discrimination, and expand access to job training, and Capitol Hill, where he served as staff director for the House Education and Labor Committee, Zuckerman has worked over the last four years to bring the organization’s research efforts and policy work into the twenty-first century.

PND spoke with Zuckerman recently about some of those changes, the meaning of the 2018 midterm elections, and TCF’s efforts to advance a progressive policy agenda.

Headshot_mark_zuckermanPhilanthropy News Digest: The Century Foundation is marking its hundredth anniversary in 2019. Tell us a bit about Edward Filene, the man who created it back in 1919.

Mark Zuckerman: Ed Filene was a prominent businessman but also somebody who was deeply engaged in public policy, a rare combination in those days. The era in which he was working was a time when there wasn't strong governmental involvement in the economy, and where it was involved, it was too weak to effectively address the economic chal­lenges of the day. Things like workers' wages and benefits, anti-trust enforcement, and a lack of transparency with respect to Wall Street, something that eventually led to passage of the Securities and Exchange Act.

Ed Filene very much believed in more robust engagement by local, state, and the federal government in people's lives. And he felt that research was a linchpin of good public policy. At the time, there were very few think tanks — the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace had been started a year earlier and Brookings had been started two years before that. 

So, the idea of a private entity taking on challenges that, in the past, only government had had sufficient resources to address was something new. Today, of course, there are think tanks all over the world focused on many different subjects, but Ed Filene really was in on the beginning of the think tank movement and on think tanks as places where social policy, progressive social policy in Mr. Filene's case, would be discussed and developed.

Like Henry Ford, he believed that paying a decent wage to your employees was good for the overall economy, and in his writings he expressed support for a mandatory minimum wage. He also gave speeches about the importance of supporting the Roosevelt admin­istration in its attempt to get Congress to pass something that looked a lot like Medicare and urged people to call in their support for initiatives Roosevelt and his brain trust were proposing.

One of the public policy innovations he was most interested in was the credit union movement, and for a specific reason. At the time, the nineteen-thirties, financial institutions mostly were there to lend and cater to businesses and wealthy individuals. There simply was no infra­structure in the United States to provide the middle class — never mind lower-income folks — with capital to buy their first home or even to invest in a small business. Ed Filene viewed credit unions as a critical tool for providing Americans with capital that could help them thrive and grow the middle class. And so he embarked on a major effort, not only at the national level but at the state level, including his own state, Massachusetts, to authorize the creation of credit unions, which sort of makes him the father of the credit union movement.

PND: Let's jump ahead a bit. How does the Century Foundation's work support a progressive policy agenda in 2019? And how has the organization's model evolved over the last hundred years to support that work?

MZ: Well, one of the big changes the Century Foundation went through — and I would say it was in keeping with changes in the way policy was made over the decades — is that it evolved over the years from being essentially a book publisher, which was what it was for decades. Back then, it would engage influential thinkers about specific social policy ideas they wanted to promote in book form. Many of those titles were, of course, written for policy elites, with the idea that these ideas would be circulated and eventually find their way into the halls of Con­gress or onto the floor of state legislatures. It was a common sort of model for academic institutions and emerging think tanks during the mid-twentieth century. But over time, and especially as the Internet became more widely used, the model changed. Today, having influence in or impact on public policy requires a lot more than just having a good idea, and too many of these books end up sitting on shelves, unread. Maybe they're filled with great ideas, but there are fewer and fewer people willing to pull those ideas out of those volumes and turn them into policy.

So, the Century Foundation today is very differ­ent than it was seventy or fifty or even twenty years ago, in that we are taking more responsibility — not only for coming up with creative solutions to today's challenges, but for figuring out how to use the resources we have beyond research and the development of policy ideas to create impact.

That's the big shift — the leveraging of intellectual and advocacy resources and institutional relationships to drive policy change. When I joined TCF as president four years ago, I hired a number of people who had recent experience in the White House or in federal agencies or on Capitol Hill, because I wanted people who understood how best to approach those institutions, and how they could have an impact on those institutions. They were also people with a high level of expertise in their particular subject matter. That's been my focus as president — finding people who know who the policy players in Washington are, who have deep expertise in their subject matter and the ability to do good research, and who have wide, influential networks in the advocacy, policy, and academic communities.

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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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