Answering the Call: Kresge’s Education Program Grantmaking Priorities for 2022

Since the spring of 2020, higher education institutions around the world have changed dramatically. From in-person lectures and seminars – ways of teaching “perfected” centuries ago – to distance learning. Now, nearly two years later, the initial shock of the pandemic has faded, but not the need to constantly adapt and change.

With these changes, however, higher education has inadvertently focused on the many students who lack the basic tools and resources needed to succeed. The surge in college enrollment typically seen during recessions not only failed to materialize in fall 2020, but also declined significantly, particularly at community colleges and among black and brown students. New data released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows a 2.7% drop in total college enrollment in fall 2021, a decline of 476,100 fewer students. Building on declining enrollment in 2020, we now have over a million post-secondary students missing. This follows with far fewer students taking advantage of federal funds like Pell Grants.

We have also witnessed a settling of accounts of another type. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was murdered in Minneapolis. His tragic death underscored how systemic racism is often at the heart of why so many people of color do not have access to our society’s resources. Throughout 2021, we supported equity-focused efforts that addressed the challenges facing students, institutions, and cities. Although we have funded several new entities in our portfolio, we have primarily focused on deepening existing grants and investing in partners that we believe need to be supported to address the current crisis. We did this by focusing on grants that would: help mitigate declining first-time college enrollment; strengthen academic promise programs; support and secure equity-focused student success solutions; prioritize student retention and support returning and transferring students.

To look forward

Increasing access to and success in urban postsecondary education while reducing inequitable student outcomes remains the team’s primary goal and the measure by which we evaluate our work. While our overall strategy remains the same, the emergencies of the COVID-19 pandemic and our national racial calculus require that we adjust our tactics to respond to the call for more fairness and support. Thus, we have identified these priorities for 2022:

  1. Respond to the negative effects of COVID-19. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not yet behind us and has already profoundly affected students in ways that really won’t come true for years. In 2022, we will seek to further support organizations working to address the myriad ways higher education has been affected, from declining enrollment and difficulties to transitioning to university, returning and transfer policies.
  2. Build on the opportunities created by the COVID stimulus and other laws to mobilize public funds to promote evidence-based and equity-conscious higher education reform. With many state budgets stronger than they have been in years, higher education has the opportunity to make long overdue adjustments to the way it treats and supports students, including listening student voice and removing the often racialized structural barriers that have historically undermined equity and prevented students from achieving success.
  3. Promoting student voice in higher education reform. We have been encouraged by the number of students and advocates focused on student experiences as the basis for change. Starting in 2022, we will encourage grantees to listen to student voices to ensure solutions and programs offered reflect student feedback and experience, from hunger or mental health challenges to affordability. colleges and access to polling stations.
  4. Capitalize on the growing higher education reform movement. A growing number of higher education leaders believe the sector must change to succeed. We look forward to seeing how we can help leaders make changes that better serve 21st century, from affordability to how students are supported on campus and in the classroom.

William FL Moses is the Executive Director of Kresge’s Education Program. Follow him on Twitter @_billmoses.

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