By Mark Pelesh, Executive Vice President, Corporate and Business Development, USA Funds
For just over two years, USA Funds® has been moving in a new direction to support better outcomes for students in postsecondary education and in their subsequent careers. We call our new focus Completion With a Purpose℠, building a more purposeful path for students to and through college and on to rewarding careers.
We promote Completion With a Purpose through two primary means:
- Philanthropic support of programs, research and convenings that enhance postsecondary program completion rates as well as the career readiness of students.
- Investing in companies, organizations and funds that deliver solutions to the challenges we are trying to address through our focus on Completion With a Purpose.
Since we began implementing this new focus, we have supported philanthropic projects of significant impact and national scope, including the following examples:
- Connecting 14,000 at-risk youth and young adults who are out of school and not working to work experience and education through our support of several outstanding community-based organizations.
- A national initiative that aims to narrow the skills gap by putting employers in the center of the education process as key customers of the services that colleges and universities deliver.
- Partnerships with national higher education associations and consortia of colleges and universities that aim to improve student persistence to graduation, deliver higher education programs more effectively and at less cost to students, and ensure the benefits of improved academic success and college completion reach all demographics of the student population.
- Groundbreaking research through Gallup on the experiences and outcomes of minority and associate degree graduates and the recent announcement of a long-term collaboration with Gallup on a daily higher education poll of prospective, current and former students on the value of postsecondary education they completed or attempted.
At the same time, we have been investing in companies, organizations and funds with the twin aims of advancing better college and career outcomes for students while generating financial support for our philanthropic initiatives. Although these investment activities have received less public attention than our philanthropy, we are just as proud of the organizations in which we are investing as we are of the projects to which we provide philanthropic support. Here are three examples:
Education at Work. This nonprofit organization, which is a USA Funds affiliate, helps students pay for college while gaining valuable work experience.
Roadtrip Nation. This new affiliate of USA Funds offers engaging resources that help students and adults alike explore their interests and career options so they can plot the best course through education to their futures.
Jefferson Education. With ties to the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, this organization “road tests” promising new education innovations, so educators and potential investors can support initiatives that will deliver the greatest impact.
The practice of nonprofits’ investing in for-profit enterprises to further their missions and support their philanthropy is not only permissible, it is a tool that many leading foundations use. For example, Lumina Foundation recently announced a social investment strategy as one of the channels for achieving its goal of enhancing higher education attainment levels. Articles in The New York Times and Washington Post report that nonprofits as diverse as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Calvert Foundation and the Washington, D.C.-based Case Foundation, among others, pursue social investment activities comparable to USA Funds’ practices.
The challenges of helping more students earn college degrees or other postsecondary credentials that provide stronger linkages to rewarding employment and fulfilling careers are significant. Organizations like USA Funds need to use every available tool — including social investing — to move the needle so that students can reap the highest returns from their own investment in higher education.