133 posts categorized "Higher Education"

Review: 'George Soros: A Life in Full'

April 26, 2022

Book_cover_George_Soros_A_Life_in_FullIt feels like our idea of an “open society” is in retreat. Wherever we look—be it the United States, where anti-democratic forces are rolling back voting rights; or Russia, where opposition leaders are imprisoned and restrictive press freedoms make it nearly impossible to report the news; or Hungary, where its nationalist, authoritarian president has been elected to a fourth term; or Ukraine, where the very existence of a free and democratic country is being challenged with military force—our notions of justice, rights, and political freedom are under threat. What we are learning in these precipitous times is that the truths we hold to be self-evident are in fact won—and lost—by our own willingness to nurture and defend them. And that is something George Soros understands very well.

The day before the publication of George Soros: A Life in Full, edited by longtime Soros publisher Peter L.W. Osnos, the Open Society Foundations (OSF) announced a $25 million pledge to launch the $100 million Ukraine Democracy Fund in response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor. This timing could not have been more appropriate, reflecting the urgency of the moment to support Ukrainian civil society and bolster relief efforts, while opening a window on the life and work of one of the last half-century’s more remarkable philanthropists. Soros, at the age of 91, is where he has always been: outspoken on his values and out front in his support of a world that embraces universal justice, human rights, political freedom, education, public health, and a free press....

Read the full commentary by Daniel X. Matz, contributing editor at Philanthropy News Digest.

A paradigm shift toward investing in public health: A commentary by Adam M. Doyno

April 19, 2022

Doctor_patient_PeopleImages_GettyImages-1300493714Let’s not lose momentum in public health funding

It’s a haunting irony that New Yorkers and the nation have crossed the second anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdowns just as the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) has recommended the PREVENT Pandemics Act to the full Senate—but without a firm commitment to fund it. Can we hope for a bipartisan, sensible outcome that supports a unified response to future crises by funding infectious disease surveillance, forecasting, and preparedness centers?

Indeed, the nearly one million deaths in the United States and six million deaths worldwide to date call for a paradigm shift in which science- and data-driven public health becomes a leading investment focus for government, foundations, and individual donors.

The need for public health funding is as great as it ever has been. Enormous global emergencies are looming—with the spread of COVID-19, polio, and other viruses among Ukrainian refugees as one tragic possibility. There is an urgent need for public health institutions to transform their learnings about COVID-19, Ebola, HIV, and other deadly illnesses into guideposts for preventing or responding to the next pandemic....

Read the full commentary by Adam M. Doyno, executive director of CUNY SPH Foundation.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

A vision for equalizing education: A commentary by Yolonda Marshall

March 21, 2022

College_students_pexels-keira-burtonClosing the racial gap in higher education

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the path to higher education for first-generation college students and those growing up in underserved communities was rife with uncertainty and barriers. These hurdles disproportionately affect students in underfunded public school systems, many of whom are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). The global pandemic  further exacerbated these challenges and uncertainties. With school buildings closed and periods of required quarantine creating gaps in attendance, students had to deal with significant disruptions to their learning. For a significant number of students from low-income communities the pandemic had added implications: Whether these students were tasked with the care of younger siblings or older family members while their parents worked essential jobs, or needed to take on a job themselves in response to family job loss, already underserved BIPOC students were taking on additional responsibilities outside the classroom.

As the CEO of Student Leadership Network (SL Network), a nonprofit committed to helping students from diverse, underserved communities access higher education, I am heartened by the progress we have made in our 25 years of leading equity in education. Yet we still see so many systemic inequities prevent equitable access for all students—particularly students of color—in pursuing higher education....

Read the full commentary by Yolonda Marshall, CEO of Student Leadership Network.

(Photo credit: Keira Burton via pexels)

Improving higher education outcomes for single mothers: A commentary by Jennifer Zeisler

December 22, 2021

Mother_college_grad_son_GettyImages_SDI ProductionsInvesting in higher education for single mothers to transform the U.S. economy

Before it’s too late, we must address a critical gap in this country’s economic recovery strategy: help for single mothers in college. These determined mothers understand the connection between their education and their families’ long-term financial security, and they have proven that they are ready and willing to take on the work that will fuel our future. It’s time for the philanthropic sector to follow their lead.

Over the last five years, ECMC Foundation has funded efforts to improve educational outcomes for single mothers, who represent more than one in ten undergraduates in the United States. We have learned that with a bit of additional support, single mothers can help drive equitable economic growth. As the only national foundation focused on the college success of single mothers, we have also learned that too few funders are making this type of sound investment. Women of color, who disproportionately pursue degrees while parenting, bear the brunt of this lack of investment. To achieve gender and racial equity in the years to come, more funders must commit to ensuring that single mothers have access to the education they want and need.

As we know from the economic recovery from the Great Recession, many jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage require educational attainment beyond high school. Single mothers are distinctly aware of the economic calculus of enrolling in college: Nearly half attend community colleges, where they pursue degrees in health care, information technology, and other middle-skill sectors that have the potential to fuel the country’s economic engine. They know that earning a college degree pays off, and they are right: Single mothers with an associate’s degree are nearly half as likely to live in poverty as those with a high school diploma.

But as the pandemic has made painfully obvious, it is difficult for parents, especially mothers, to work without access to child care. This is especially true for single-mother students, who must balance care, work, and school — and was true long before the pandemic. Facing high poverty rates and having limited time to devote to their studies due to work and family demands, fewer than 10 percent of single-mother students graduate on time....

Read the full commentary by Jennifer Zeisler, senior program director for career readiness at ECMC Foundation.

(Photo credit: GettyImages/SDI Productions)

Support for first-generation college students beyond scholarships: A commentary by Andrew Davis and Sam Ritter

December 02, 2021

News_africanamerican_gradsThe power of private scholarships to fuel systemic change for first-generation college students

The challenge

Each year philanthropists invest $6.1 billion in private scholarships for more than 1.6 million students on their way to earning a college degree. Many of these scholarships were created to help level the playing field for first-generation and underrepresented students. But scholarships alone cannot remove all obstacles faced by first-generation students both in accessing higher education and graduating on time.

College completion has proven to produce better economic outcomes and job prospects, higher wages, increased satisfaction levels, and a higher quality of life. However, when college scholarships are awarded without a focus on completion, promising young people often struggle to navigate the road to graduation. Before a first-generation student can take advantage of the professional and social mobility a college degree can provide, that student must first graduate. But graduation is not only the result of academic commitment; it also requires a student to deal with the social, emotional, and financial strains of pursuing a degree. While this is true for all students, the problem is more pronounced for students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Inclusivity initiatives, students’ hard work, and the availability of scholarships have unlocked access to higher education for some students. But once enrolled, those students are often left to navigate college without the on-campus support they need. First-generation students often struggle to find an on-campus community that looks, acts, and speaks like them or understands their background. Even the hardest-working student relies on numerous factors, including community, to successfully graduate. Due to longstanding institutional blind spots, colleges and universities can overlook or underestimate the challenges of being a first-generation student. The result? Lower graduation rates despite sufficient academic ability....

Read the full commentary by Andrew Davis and Sam Ritter, the founder and director, respectively, of the Davis New Mexico Scholarship.

Building better futures for young refugees through education

October 14, 2021

Globe_handsThe emergency evacuation that recently unfolded in Afghanistan once again placed a spotlight on the plight of the world's refugees. It is a recurring crisis. In fact, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that of the 82.4 million people forcibly displaced from their countries in 2020 due to persecution, conflict, human rights violations, or other events, thirty-five million were under the age of 18. That's a staggering number of young people forced to live without the support, structure, and safety of their communities and unable to move beyond their present circumstances.

Tragically, education, which is so essential for young people to achieve their full potential, is overlooked when considering the welfare of refugees.

While working in Angola in the late 2000s, I saw firsthand the downstream consequences for people who grew up in refugee camps or far from their home communities with limited to no access to education. Make no mistake: Fleeing to neighboring countries allowed those young people to avoid forced conscription, brutal and violent war, and in many cases death. But few had the opportunity to pursue education beyond elementary school, and this no doubt hampered the post-war development of Angola, a country that experienced one of the longest civil wars of the twentieth century.

The current situation in Afghanistan is equally as urgent and dire. Afghan students and academics are under daily threat. We have not forgotten the attacks in 2016 on the American University of Afghanistan, when fifteen people were killed and at least fifty injured, including students, professors, and staff.  

To offer one solution to the ongoing refugee crisis in Afghanistan and around the world, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has launched and funded a new scholarship for student refugees and displaced persons. The IIE Odyssey Scholarship covers tuition, housing, and living expenses for refugees and displaced students pursing undergraduate or graduate degrees for the duration of their degree programs. We also created new scholarships for students from the now closed American University of Afghanistan. With these scholarships, displaced students will be able to safely continue their studies at college campuses abroad.   

In designing the Odyssey Scholarship, we leveraged our global network and expertise from within our regional offices. A regional approach has an additional benefit because 73 percent of displaced people are hosted by countries in the same region, according to UNHCR.

In addition, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has launched the Hilde Domin Programme, which supports students who are denied education in their home country. In Mexico, Proyecto Habesha began by supporting young people fleeing Syria, offering Spanish language training, financing, relocation support, and opportunities to study at Mexican universities. Their unique public-private programs grew over time, and today Proyecto Habesha brings displaced students from all over the world to live and learn in Mexico.

For all of these programs, the goal is to enable students to learn, grow, and one day return home to rebuild their countries. However, more must be done. At a time when crises around the world are worsening, resources for the displaced are severely lacking.

We know from our more than hundred-year history the importance of education in unlocking human potential. When young people have the opportunity to pursue their studies in safety and security, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. At IIE, we design and grow high-impact programs and make our programs sustainable by fundraising and building endowments that are prudently invested and managed. This is the model under which our longstanding programs and the new Odyssey Scholarship operate. 

IIE and our international network of colleges and universities have been working to provide practical solutions to threatened students from all over the globe and secure their safety. Real solutions require long-term commitment and support. We cannot allow for a lost generation among the refugee community. The resilience and determination we are seeing from displaced students and scholars should encourage us all to find a way to help.

Headshot_Jason_Czyz_IIE_PhilanTopicJason Czyz is executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Institute of International Education.

Unpaid internships and the pipeline of privilege: A commentary by Kyra Kyles

August 16, 2021

Women_high_fives_GettyImagesEnding the pipeline of privilege: Why unpaid internships perpetuate inequities

Though the days of the coffee-fetching, fax-sending, thumb-twiddling intern are all but over, there is one vestige of the "first rite" of career passage that is stubbornly stuck in the past: the unpaid part.

In an era when tween and teen content creators can make thousands of dollars for a single TikTok or Instagram post, it is ridiculous that there are employers who don't make the connection between younger workers' efforts and meaningful compensation. Nor do these employers see the throughline between the absence of said compensation and the predominantly white pipeline of privilege that continues to flow into their workplaces.

Make no mistake: There is enough evidence to demonstrate that the pipeline of privilege is skewed to the white and male side of the spectrum....

Read the full commentary by Kyra Kyles, CEO of YR Media.

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

Intentional philanthropy to diversify science

May 17, 2021

News_scientists-in-labLast week, Michael Bloomberg announced a $150 million gift to my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to provide permanent funding for a hundred STEM PhD students from minority-serving institutions. The gift is noteworthy not for its amount but rather for its potential to increase PhD attainment for Black and Latinx students in STEM fields.

The initiative has the potential not only to signal change but to drive it. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, the share of Black Americans among all PhD recipients rose just over half a percentage point, from 4.9 percent to 5.5 percent. Assuming that representation at Hopkins is reflective of the national data, Bloomberg's gift could double the number of Black and Latinx students in Hopkins PhD programs. It's an important start, but not enough; long-term change will require a sea change in culture across all STEM fields.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other funders have been working to address the problem for decades, but several recent studies suggest that targeted funding at the PhD level does not translate to higher retention of Black and Latinx scientists in academia. A 2017 study found that Black faculty members made up only 0.7 percent of tenure-track faculty in biology across forty top institutions in the U.S., highlighting the dramatic attrition of Black PhDs over the course of the typical academic career trajectory. While most PhD scientists go on to have successful careers outside academia, it is nevertheless important to monitor the data for those who stay — not least because academic researchers play a key role in training future scientists, interfacing with clinical trial participants, and directing scientific inquiry. If Black scientists are choosing to seek other careers, we must stop to ask why and address the issues so that efforts to increase representation among scientists translate to all settings where scientists are engaged.

Funding, equity, and community

A decade ago, a study found that Black scientists were significantly less likely to receive a research grant from NIH than similarly qualified white colleagues. In 2019, NIH published a follow-up report showing that one contributing factor to the disparity was that Black researchers applied for funding in areas that were of lower overall priority to the federal agency. A seemingly obvious solution to the problem would be to encourage Black researchers to apply for grants in higher-priority areas. However, the critical questions should be: "Exactly who is determining health research priorities?" and "Are these priorities addressing the needs and perspectives of the whole population?"

Shifting to nonprofits and philanthropies, it is well documented that advisory recommendation boards lack diverse perspectives and are therefore less able to navigate and guide health research in ways that are most impactful for a diverse population. Increasing the diversity of the bodies that set priorities will feed back into research settings where Black scientists struggle to access funding for the topics they see as most important.

Beyond the differences in fields of study that Black, Indigenous, and people of color scientists choose, NIH has noted that the standard process by which scientific proposals are evaluated may drive disparities in funding. Overall, Black scientists are half as likely to receive key research grants from NIH. The agency has noted that proposals from BIPOC scientists are less likely to be discussed and, when discussed, tend to score lower on average. Given that the applications all came from highly accomplished researchers, the finding not only suggests systemic racism, it underscores how it is perpetuated.

Finally, funders and institutions must pay attention to how Black and Latinx student-scientists are supported when there are so few faculty members available to them. Nearly 6 percent of biology PhD recipients but only 0.7 percent of biology PhD faculty are Black — an imbalance that places a disproportionate amount of mentoring and role-modeling responsibilities on a relatively small number of faculty. Increasing diversity among STEM scholars and scientists must not come at the expense of increasing the workloads of BIPOC faculty. Funders and institutions can help address these challenges by providing more support for Black faculty and/or acknowledging the existence of these disparities in the review process.

Last fall, many of us celebrated MacKenzie Scott's investment in the endowments of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Today, we cheer Mike Bloomberg's effort to connect these programs to top-tier STEM PhD programs. And we hope his investment will set the stage for other funders, philanthropic and public, to support scholars of color at every stage of their scientific careers. All funders must take a deep, critical look at their priorities, vetting processes, and advisory protocols. After all, what better way is there to further the change you want to see?

Altimus-Cara_PhilanTopicCara Altimus, PhD, is a senior director at the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy.

Getting rid of standardized testing will penalize kids from underserved schools 

April 09, 2021

SatFor the first time in half a century, the University of California will admit thousands of high school seniors who did not take the SAT or ACT. With the coronavirus pandemic impeding students' ability to safely sit for the exams, many colleges — including the California system's public universities as well as elite private schools such as Yale, Cornell, and the University of Chicago — announced they'd forgo the testing requirement.

This came as welcome news to critics of standardized testing, who have long denounced the SAT and ACT as being racist, irredeemably biased, and poor at predicting collegiate success. Add to that the surge in the number of college applications this past fall once the tests were abandoned — Harvard alone received 42 percent more applicants than in a normal year — and the future of the tests doesn’t look bright.

My organization has been preparing low-income students to take the SAT since 2013.  I take the tests myself on the three occasions a year that adults are allowed to do so. Those experiences — and eight years' worth of data we've gathered on test-takers — have convinced me that, despite their flaws, standardized tests are a vital tool for low-income students and students of color seeking to earn admission to elite colleges and universities. What's more, the tests can be mastered, and that process can help students from underresourced schools strengthen their critical thinking skills as well as their content-related educational chops.

Initially, many students from disadvantaged backgrounds find standardized tests to be mysterious and impenetrable. But as they practice taking the test, they improve — and not just their overall scores. As they master more of the SAT math questions, they learn  math basics they may have missed in the classroom; as they improve their scores on the reading comprehension part, they become better readers. Test prep helps them hone their critical thinking skills, fill knowledge gaps, and manage test anxiety, while eliminating many of the imperceptible barriers that keep low-income students from educational success. By the end of three weeks, my students typically improve their SAT scores by 130-180 points (the single highest score improvement was 710 points!) and have built a solid foundation for future educational success. 

That's not reason enough, perhaps, to keep standardized testing. But there's another factor: selective colleges often use the tests as a gauge of a student's ability to complete a four-year degree. Just months before the University of California system made the tests optional, a UC task force found that the elimination of the test requirement would deny automatic entry to 40 percent of African-American students and more than 25 percent of low-income and first-generation students admitted to UC. Standardized tests, in other words, are their ticket to a four-year degree and a brighter future.

The same test score-based sorting takes place at private colleges and universities. "If the student can't break a combined 1000 on the SAT," an elite college admissions officer once told me, "no matter how much support we give, that student is unlikely to graduate." The inverse of her statement is also true: A student who can match or surpass that score is much more likely to complete their degree. In its concreteness, the test can signal to an admissions officer that a student has the raw material she/they/he needs to thrive in a four-year college setting. 

Indeed, the less we rely on standardized testing, the more unequal higher education is likely to become. And the most worrisome aspect of that reality is that the change will largely escape the notice of those who don't work with underserved populations. Here's why: Elite institutions like the Ivies have admission quotas for members of historically underrepresented, socioeconomically marginalized groups (primarily Black and Latinx). By scoring above 1000 on the SAT, low-SES students show that they are "college-ready" and can succeed at a highly selective institution. If we take away one of the few avenues these students have to demonstrate their mettle and readiness to undertake a rigorous academic program, my students' odds of attending an Ivy or other elite institution are going to go down, not up. If test scores are eliminated from the equation, those schools will simply take kids who tick off a particular race or ethnic box — and many will be international students who can afford full tuition. Very few people look at the number of Pell-eligible students a college accepts/graduates, but that's where you’ll see the change.

Elite institutions are not wrong to think that students from underserved schools struggle more than students from well-resourced schools. They know — and our partner organizations know — that students from underserved schools often are four to six grade levels behind their better-resourced peers and can struggle with significant content gaps. It can be particularly hard for underserved students to hit the ground running in freshman year (something all would-be STEM majors must do). Many need some remediation or time to adjust to an unstructured academic workload that's far more demanding than what they experienced in high school. An SAT score of 1000 is enough for Harvard to take a chance on such a student. Without that score, and given the grade inflation that prevails at many underserved high schools, Harvard has no reliable way of knowing which students are (and are not) likely to persist.  

Standardized testing's many outspoken critics point to the tests as a symptom of a racially biased system, which they are:  underresourced schools do a poor job prepping primarily Black and Latinx students for college. Standardized tests correctly diagnose that failure, but that doesn't mean we should throw away the tests; instead, we should focus on fixing the unequal educational system. 

In making the test the enemy rather than focusing on fixing the problem, critics also overlook the ways in which standardized tests can help reduce systemic inequities as a key to privilege: higher college graduation rates are correlated with greater college selectivity, which is correlated with higher SAT scores, which means that raising Black and Latinx kids' SAT scores (those most affected by undermatching) and getting them into an Ivy or other elite institution is both a path to graduation and — through lower student debt, higher post-graduation salaries, and the power of college networks/name recognition — a more economically secure future. 

Despite their many failings, standardized tests are among the most powerful levelers in society and, if approached with a clear understanding of their benefits as well as shortcomings, can help us close the all-too-persistent opportunity gap in higher education. The answer is not to throw them away, but to keep them and invest more in preparing students —all students — to excel in the skills they measure.

Headshot_alyssa_bowlbyAlyssa Bowlby is  co-founder and executive director of the Yleana Leadership Foundation.

A Q&A With Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO, Lumina Foundation

January 26, 2021

Jamie Merisotis is a globally recognized leader in philanthropy, education, and public policy. Since 2008, he has served as  president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, an independent private foundation that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. He previously served as co-founder and president of the nonpartisan Institute for Higher Education Policy and as executive director of a bipartisan national commission on college affordability appointed by the U.S. president and congressional leaders.

A frequent media commentator and contributor, Merisotis is the author of America Needs Talent: Attracting, Educating & Deploying the 21st-Century Workforce, which was named a Top 10 Business Book of 2016 by Booklist, and the recently published Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines. The Q&A is reprinted here with the permission of Lumina.

Headshot_jaime_merisotisQ: Since March, tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs, bringing the United States' unemployment rate to its highest point since the Great Depression. The near-term pain is obvious, but how will this seismic economic event influence the workforce a generation from now?

Jamie Merisotis: Millions of people are now working remotely. Schools have shifted to online courses, leading to millions of students learning in what was once considered a peripheral method of education. While workplaces, schools, and colleges will eventually reopen, the idea that it is normal to "go" to work or school has likely changed forever. This shift away from brick-and-mortar spaces has a bright side that we should be ready to take advantage of, especially because online learning opens doors to many of today's students, who are more likely to be minorities, working full time, and caring for family members. In [Human Work], I wrote about Marcia McCallum, a single mother of four who went back to school to earn two associate degrees at a community college nearly thirty years after finishing high school. Online learning allowed her to juggle school, work, and family. Now McCallum doesn't have to do double-shifts waiting tables on the weekends. Instead, she works full-time for a biotech company growing cell cultures that are harvested for therapeutic antibodies. This is an example of how we can take advantage of this massive shift in the way we perceive school and work to serve everyone, not just those who can afford — financially or in terms of time — to get an education.

Q: What weaknesses in education systems and workforce training systems has the economic crisis highlighted and exacerbated?

JM: During the pandemic, we've seen that people who can work remotely are less likely to lose their jobs, and that the ability to work remotely is closely associated with education levels. Even before COVID-19 really hit, in April, unemployment for workers without a high school diploma had risen to 6.8 percent. But among those with at least a bachelor's degree, the unemployment rate was just 2.5 percent. That doesn't tell the whole story. Fifty-four percent of people with master's or doctoral degrees can work remotely; the share of people who can work at home drops to 39 percent for workers with bachelor's degrees. For workers who don't have at least a bachelor's, the number bottoms out at 20 percent. The lesson we should draw is that higher levels of education — and the skills and attributes they help people develop, including the ability to communicate, motivate themselves, and work in teams — prepare workers to adapt to the changes in the workplace, today and in the future.

Q: What should the U.S. government be doing right now to help people develop the capacity for human work?

JM: It has never been more important for the federal government and states to be aligned on these issues. States have an especially big hill to climb, because more than forty states and the District of Columbia require balanced budgets. To balance them, states have two major levers: massive layoffs of state employees or raising taxes. Programmatic cuts, by themselves, won't be enough. More important, given the forty-plus million Americans who filed for unemployment because of shutdowns related to the pandemic, the political consequences will be enormous. I don't see any reasonable path forward without a massive infusion of federal dollars to states. And that massive federal infusion cannot be used simply to prop up the "existing system." That system has failed too many Americans for too long. That was the mistake of the last recession: most of the dollars the feds gave states were used to prop up underperforming systems. This time, we should invest massively in generating real results. This includes big investments in community colleges that award associate degrees and short-term credentials for the people in retail, hospitality, and other heavily impacted industries, because many of those jobs will not return. Any additional federal stimulus efforts also should focus on the human work skills that will be necessary for success in the new economy. And these investments must focus on the economic needs of workers and the growing racial disparities highlighted by the spread of the coronavirus. The policy options that are weighed cannot be a "return to normal" because we know "normal" for most of the world is not something people want — they want and deserve much better.

Q: In Human Work, you suggest the need for a large-scale rethink of higher learning and workforce-training programs. Can this crisis force us to be bolder? Are there changes you support that are likely to be adopted after the crisis is over?

JM: I fear many still believe the end of the crisis will bring a return to "normal." But for our systems of learning and preparing people for work, returning to the old normal would be disastrous. People will need new skills, new ways of engaging with their communities, and new ways of relating to one another. The crisis clarifies that we need to make opportunities for work-relevant learning available to every American, regardless of wealth, race, age, or geographic location.

Some colleges are already reinventing themselves to meet the needs of a new generation of students. In the book, I wrote about Amarillo College in the Texas Panhandle. Ten years ago, the college had a graduation rate of 9 percent. Russell Lowery-Hart, now the president of the college, discovered that issues such as child care and transportation were the biggest hurdles for students, so he set up a series of "wraparound" support services to meet students' needs in non-academic areas. Today, the completion rate at Amarillo is 52 percent. Lowery-Hart's most important insight was that colleges have to address students" life circumstances; it's an especially important lesson as the tumult of the last year upends students' academic pursuits.

Q: You write about "learning, learning, and serving" throughout the book and, in places, offer an almost spiritual take on the dignity of work. Can you explain why continuous learning is so integral to developing meaningful human work?

JM: We live in a complex world. It's not just that employment requirements are changing in ways that demand higher levels of thinking and skill. The knowledge, skills, and abilities people need to develop also are needed to help address the issues we face as a society and the problems we see in our communities. The only way to meet this challenge is through continuous learning on a vast scale. Fortunately, we are hard-wired to learn, just as we are to work and serve. I found a great example of one such "learning organization" in what many might consider an unlikely place: state government. For the past decade, the state government in Tennessee, which employs forty-two thousand workers, making it the largest public employer in the state, has made a huge commitment to offering learning and training opportunities to its employees. But instead of doing one-day job fairs, the state created twenty-eight different state leadership academies, ranging from management training to programs designed to groom younger employees for future leadership opportunities. Trish Holliday, the leader of this  training initiative, says what's most important is that state government has undergone a cultural change and no longer sees workforce training "event-driven" but rather as something that happens all the time and that one builds on throughout his or her life.

Q: New technology and automation have been eliminating jobs for decades. The accelerating pace of technology adoption is likely to displace many workers over the coming decades or force them to work differently. What should retraining look like? And who's responsible for making it happen?

JM: Even the term retraining is obsolete. We have to keep learning throughout our lives. Required work skills constantly change, even for people who don't switch jobs. One problem is education and training continue to be viewed as fundamentally different and separate systems, and whatever people learn in one system is not recognized by the other. The answer is that education and workforce training must be redesigned as a broad, integrated system focused on meeting the needs of individuals.

There already are companies and education providers creating local initiatives to integrate work and learning. In the book, I wrote about an apprenticeship program near Charlotte, North Carolina. The program at Blum, Inc., a manufacturer of high-tech latches and hinges for cabinetry, encourages workers to attend classes at the local community college. At the end of their apprenticeships, workers have jobs with the company, an associate degree from the college, and a journeyman certificate from the North Carolina Department of Commerce they can take with them if they switch jobs.

Q: What are some examples of companies — or even countries — promoting individuals' deeper potential? Is anyone taking the right approach to developing the capacities of human workers who increasingly must deal with automation and AI?

JM: Absolutely. In Tennessee, the Lee Company, a family-owned air-conditioning, plumbing and electrical business with more than $22 million in annual sales and fifteen hundred employees, makes a point of helping its workers thrive. After the recession ten years ago, the company created "Lee Company University," a training program that offers employees a free, structured four-year program leading to an industry-recognized certification and journeyman license. Another example, this one a large publicly-traded company: Cummins, Inc., which makes diesel engines and power-generation equipment, is a $26 billion annual business with sixty thousand employees around the globe. Based in Columbus, Indiana, the company employs collaborative robots, or "cobots," alongside its human employees, freeing the latter from repetitive or physically taxing tasks. In Seymour, a town of about twenty thousand in southern Indiana, the company has created partnerships to improve education, amenities, and  quality of life. These include improved pre-kindergarten offerings, more walking and biking trails, and initiatives to attract more businesses to downtown.

The companies that will flourish in the future are those that take an interest in developing their talent by positioning it for the meaningful work only humans can do while also recognizing that people want to be involved in their communities, continue to learn, and live fulfilling lives.

Q: How do you make all companies see the benefit of taking a broader interest in their employees?

JM: To spread these ideas, companies need to talk with each other about the benefits of talent investments in driving their success. Employers can take charge of their companies' futures by defining exactly what abilities and skills workers should possess, and how to develop and attract that talent. Companies must take steps to ensure their workers can fully develop their knowledge, skills, and abilities over the course of their careers and lives, regardless of the structure of their work. Learning for life will be an integral part of the work of the future, and employers need to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate. Companies can literally make money as a result of investing in human work. Lumina hired a global consulting firm a few years back to explore the financial benefits of investing in tuition assistance. One employer, Cigna, found that employees who had participated in its education program were more likely to be promoted and were significantly more likely to be transferred and retained, resulting in higher pay for them while saving the company money. Even after accounting for program expenses, for every dollar Cigna had invested in employee education, the company received its original dollar back, plus another $1.29, all in the form of talent management cost savings.

Q: If you could press a button and make a single change in education or workforce training, what would it be, and why?

JM: The durable Rahm Emanuel quote applies here: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." We cannot drift back into familiar ways of thinking out of a misplaced desire for normalcy. We made a massive and sudden shift to remote work this year across large swaths of the economy. Now we need to re-engineer work in ways that create a better work-life balance while also respecting the environment and our global climate. We made an incredibly rapid shift to large-scale online learning, but now we need to redesign programs and curricula to take advantage of the technology available to offer better and more robust learning environments for all students. Similarly, we responded to COVID-19 as a society by changing individual behaviors on a previously unanticipated scale to protect public health. Now we need to find ways to allow everyone to make that kind of difference by serving others. Bit by bit, we are starting to see a new path forward. Our objective now should be to consolidate these gains into a unified system of earning, learning, and serving others.

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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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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