The Intersection

Intersection Webinar Recap: Higher Education Philanthropic Priorities in the Age of COVID-19

May 22, 2020

In the higher education space, philanthropic leaders play a key role in seeding and supporting innovative strategies to help students. Much of this work involves developing lines of communication with people on the front lines of supporting students, like people at institutions of higher education (IHEs) or in college counseling offices. Because of these relationships, higher education funders often have their “ear to the ground” when it comes to emerging developments and shifts in the postsecondary landscape. This perspective makes them especially well suited to speak to the seismic changes in higher education that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic – and to the solutions being developed by their partners.

Earlier this week, we were joined by three of our partners in North and South Carolina: MC Belk Pilon and Chuck Kaylor from the John M. Belk Endowment, and Susan DeVenny from the J. Marion Sims Foundation. MC, Chuck, and Susan all shared their thinking on how higher education leaders in their communities have been responding to the crisis, and how they as philanthropic partners have been exploring new ways to support these efforts.

We also used two recently completed projects to frame some of how we are thinking about how to carry work forward in this new post-COVID reality. The first is the Attainment for All policy brief series, which we developed in partnership with MC and Chuck [should we also mention Lumina, Kresge here?], that highlighted different strategies to raise attainment rates while also narrowing equity gaps. As Chuck and MC said, the push to raise attainment is ultimately about preparing students for future economic demands – something that is even more important in the wake of the pandemic.

The second project we discussed is the South Carolina Higher Education Advisory Committee (HEAC), which Susan played a key role in helping us develop. The HEAC, which was a partnership between The Hunt Institute, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, developed a set of recommendations to guide statewide higher education policy. Speaking about the HEAC, Susan noted that a lot of the Committee’s work involved spotlighting the cracks and gaps in the pipeline toward higher education completion. Now that students are even more at risk of falling through those cracks because of COVID-19, it is more important than ever for policymakers to mitigate these risks.

Overall, MC, Chuck, and Susan reaffirmed the renewed importance of many of the higher education priorities the field has been lifting up for years in the new post-COVID world. They shared hopeful stories of partners working creatively to serve students, such as training hundreds of near-peer college advisors to use e-learning advising platforms and bringing community partners together on video conference meetings to collaborate on policy responses. There was consensus among all three about the importance of maintaining strong partnerships, focusing on communities who are likely to be most affected, and listening – especially to student voices.


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