College Access and Success through Philanthropy: It’s About More Than Money

Author:
Robin Baird
Theme:
Education Philanthropy
Wednesday, March 11, 2020

In 1638, John Harvard’s gift of his library and half of his estate created what we now know as Harvard University, thus launching a form of educational philanthropy in the United States. Today, philanthropic efforts supporting pre-K through high school help children tap into their potential, and funding for higher education paves pathways to and through college. TPI helps all kinds of funders create tailored giving strategies, and a good deal of our work has focused on increasing educational opportunity and unlocking human potential. In the area of college access and success, we have gained insights into not only what is possible with strategic philanthropy in higher education, but also how philanthropy can help to increase graduation rates and foster post-graduate success.

Philanthropy That Changes Lives and Trajectories

What can an effective college access and success program mean for young people, many of whom are first generation college students with limited financial resources? Higher graduation rates, smaller loan burdens, and better chances for success after college.

Across the college access and success programs that TPI has designed for our clients, six-year graduation rates range from 84-97%, far above the national average of 60%. And while the average loan burden for college graduates in the United States is $28,650, our students typically graduate with $13,000 or less in loans – and many have no loans at all to repay upon graduation. Minimizing financial burdens and stress for these young adults is invaluable, as many of them are first generation and low-income students who help pay family bills while trying to establish themselves after college.

Program Elements that Make a Difference

TPI works with clients to create scholarship and college success programs to meet the needs of the populations they want to support. As every college graduate knows, there are not only financial but also administrative, social, and cultural challenges to navigate beyond the classroom, all requiring attention during a time of significant personal growth. Financial support via scholarships for tuition and educational expenses is, of course, crucial to help students manage potential debt. College success programs can also provide a safety net for students’ physical, mental, and emotional needs. Among the programs TPI designs and manages, we see three key elements that are making a difference in young people’s lives:

  1. Advisors are critical in strong, comprehensive programs, and are typically paired with students for the duration of their college experience. Many higher education institutions are isolating places for first generation students, low-income students, and students of color navigating new worlds, and advisors help to ensure that students know they are not alone. An effective advisor is a student’s guidepost throughout college: a listening ear, a thought partner offering insights and sharing advice, an advocate not only within the scholarship program but often on campus, and a mentor as the student learns to self-advocate in unfamiliar environments in school and beyond.
  2. Flexible funds advance equity in these students’ foundation for the future. Many expenses during college fall outside the traditional cost of attendance but are integral to the college experience. Without flexible funds, students in college success programs would miss out on things that may come easily to their peers. Examples can include transportation home for school breaks so students can rest and reconnect with loved ones, summer housing to enable internship opportunities, new computers when old ones break, flights or passport costs for study abroad, summer courses to help improve GPAs, and more.
  3. Peer and professional networks further prevent the sense of isolation, and many of our programs are intentional about connecting scholars to each other on individual campuses and through scholarship-wide events. A friendly face on campus, in a hometown, or even at an internship or workplace makes a big difference when a student knows others are having similar experiences. To support students’ post-college aspirations, college success programs can incorporate professional networking opportunities into annual events, provide a database of professionals and program alumni who students can contact for informational interviews, and host speed networking events with professionals in a variety of career fields. These connections give students a chance to build their network, leading to internships, jobs, and a better understanding of possible career pathways.

For many of the students supported by the programs we manage, college feels like the highest of stakes because it is high stakes. Scholars fear failing academically, socially, and financially – fears that can be paralyzing as these young people sense they have no room for mistakes. Yet the college experience is meant to be a space for exploration, and all students deserve to engage in such exploration to maximize the value of their experience. Given that, these students can – and do – graduate with the tools to excel at anything they do, well prepared for their career of choice.

This is what our clients seek most: the knowledge that they are enabling young people to leverage higher education more equitably to maximize their potential. Students and their families benefit, academic institutions benefit, and communities benefit as a result. We have seen the transformational impact of programs that operate internationally, nationally, in just one region, and in just one town. With a variety of unique goals and concerns related to higher education, there are endless ways for funders to get involved and change the lives of ever-more students through programs large and small.

Are there communities you want to support with multifaceted access to higher education? Did you receive support as a college student that was instrumental in your success? Are you currently doing work in this realm that complements these lessons and might create a fresh conversation? Please reach out – we’d love to talk with you.

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This post is the first of a 2-part series about TPI’s work with college success programs. Stay tuned for a second post that shares more specific examples of what our program advisors see and hear directly from the college students they advise.

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