The philanthropic community recognizes that postsecondary education is a critical pathway to economic mobility and stability. Therefore, philanthropy has been using its grant making and voice to build support for the growing number of students from historically underserved groups—including students experiencing poverty and students of color who face unique barriers to obtaining higher education.

In this education brief, researchers from Mathematica and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development provide key ways colleges, funders, and other stakeholders can build and apply an equity framework to ensure all students are successful in college. The recommendations are based on case studies of two community colleges in Washington State participating in the Working Students Success Network (WSSN), an innovative, comprehensive strategy for supporting working students from groups traditionally underserved in American higher education, especially students of color and those experiencing poverty.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Lumina Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Kresge Foundation, MetLife Foundation, and Bank of America started WSSN in 2014 with Achieving the Dream, a national reform network. WSSN includes a consortium of community colleges in Arkansas, California, Virginia, and Washington. WSSN provides students of color and students experiencing poverty access to integrated and holistic services that address their academic, employment, and financial needs.

To support equitable postsecondary education outcomes, research suggests that colleges, funders, and other stakeholders should:

  1. Develop a strong equity framework that includes shared definitions, assumptions, and goals.
  2. Move beyond one-size-fits all approaches and recognize that students’ academic difficulties vary widely.
  3. Support the whole student by addressing students’ basic needs, facilitating and institutionalizing personal relationships, and offering and elevating culturally relevant programming.
  4. Center on the student voice and experience by engaging with students, recognizing their unique needs, and leveraging their assets.

Click here to read and download the full brief (PDF).