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Working Together to Spur System Changes for Student Success: A Powerful Philanthropic Partnership

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

By Russ Gould, Chairman of the Board, College Futures Foundation and Monica Lozano, President & CEO, College Futures Foundation

A college degree is a game changer, setting graduates up for a lifetime of benefits that will extend to future generations and throughout their communities. Especially for low-income families and communities of color—the majority of California’s population—success in college significantly improves socioeconomic status, creates opportunities for better health, and encourages civic engagement.

Simply put, higher education is the vehicle for social mobility.

But the journey to a B.A. winds through an education system with multiple segments, a labyrinth of confusing and sometimes conflicting requirements, and entrenched practices that don’t always support students. Working to reimagine complicated systems is…well, complicated. Meaningful changes require working with many players, weighing multiple causes and effects, and fostering purposeful coordination.

Partnership is essential to the strategy of College Futures Foundation to ensure that every student has a fair shot at opportunity and a clear path to a degree regardless of zip code, skin color, or income.

We are committed not only to increasing collaborations between grantees but also between funders. Co-funding projects has enabled us and our peers to leverage more resources and align attention and approaches to specific issues. Now, a new type of partnership with The James Irvine Foundation is allowing us to make a bigger impact.

Irvine has contributed $5 million to deepen College Futures’ investments in organizations, institutions, and leaders focused on college completion and increasing student success. We’re honored that Irvine is trusting us to make higher education grant decisions on their behalf. After the first two years, the partnership may include additional investments from Irvine. On average, College Futures invests about $20 million per year in ensuring that more underrepresented students can get to and through college.

In recent years, Irvine has been an essential collaborator in some of our biggest investments. Together, we have supported reforms of remedial education at California Community Colleges that have streamlined the path to a degree. We also helped develop regional initiatives that bring together colleges, universities, businesses, and community organizations to improve educational outcomes in the Central Valley and Inland Empire.

Our new partnership with Irvine has the potential to produce synergies that can spur broader systems improvements. Both of our foundations have audacious goals that are interrelated: Irvine supports efforts to give all low-income workers in California the power to advance economically; College Futures wants all students to have educational opportunities as a means to greater social and economic mobility.

While progress is being made, challenges remain. Too many students from low-income families and communities of color are being left out of higher education and the benefits that flow from having a college degree. The gap between rich and poor in California is growing wider. A college education can bridge that gap.

By working closely together, our foundations can align our goals and ensure that we are advancing each other’s work. With each foundation focusing on what we do best, we are maximizing our time, energy, and resources.

For too long, the education and economic systems in California have excluded too many people. Changing deeply embedded habits, values, and resources is difficult, and no institution, funder, or leader can—or should—do the work alone. By trusting each other and working together, we can achieve more, and everyone can reap the benefits

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