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Engaging in Inquiry, Supporting Promising Practices, and Centering Youth to Advance Equity in College Success

Through College Futures Foundation’s Community Philanthropy for Student Success Initiative, the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities (Gardner Center) coupled research and capacity building, working in partnership with multiple community foundations who were engaged in improving equitable college attainment. As part of this effort, the Gardner Center supported California Community Foundation (CCF) to use data strategically and effectively to address barriers facing students from low-income backgrounds in pursuing and completing postsecondary education. Specifically, the Gardner Center worked with CCF’s Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund (LASIF), a collaboration with College Futures Foundation that launched in 2011.

Supporting Promising Practices for Young Men of Color to Succeed in College

After five years, CCF’s data pointed to promising outcomes related to persistence and completion, but marked gender gaps, with 64% of students served identifying as female and 36%, male. The Gardner Center worked with the LASIF team to review contextual landscape data and national trends, revealing that male students, and particularly young men of color, were falling behind their peers at several points along the path to and through college. The LASIF team synthesized this information and determined that the local ecosystem of college access and success programs and the funding practices that supported them were not meeting the needs of young men, motivating the team to consider how they could transform that ecosystem. To do this, they needed a new strategy, and the Gardner Center worked with them to develop that strategy.

Central to their new approach was a targeted two-year, $2 million initiative to support promising practices to better help young men of color access college preparation services and succeed once enrolled in a postsecondary institution. This work was envisioned as a learning process, fueled through the funding of direct service projects designed and implemented by community partners. To advance collective learning and collaboration, funded partners were expected to contribute to a cohort-based learning community, through which they would share knowledge and a growing collective understanding of program strategies and outcomes. This initiative was funded in partnership with College Futures Foundation, ECMC Foundation, and Angell Foundation.

This report—Los Angeles Scholars Investment Fund: Reflections 2019—includes a summary of activities, early learnings, and reflections from this multi-year initiative. It was compiled by the Fellowship Planning Team, led by the CCF with support from the Gardner Center and Youth Mentoring Action Network.

Planning for a Strategic Refresh of the Initiative via Youth Action Research

Soon after the completion of the Fellowship, the LASIF team began plans for a strategic refresh of the Initiative, which was approaching its ten-year anniversary. Based on a commitment to center youth in a meaningful community process, the team engaged the Gardner Center to implement a participatory youth action research project. In the winter/spring of 2021, CCF and the Gardner Center partnered to support ten LASIF scholars in a 13-week Action Research Fellowship. The Fellows developed a set of research questions that addressed LASIF’s interests as well as their own. They developed an interview protocol and conducted 56 interviews with scholars who were part of LASIF college access and success programs. Based on these interviews, the Fellows undertook a process to synthesize the main points and develop findings and recommendations. This effort culminated in a written memo, and a presentation to the first meeting of the LASIF Strategic Refresh Advisory Committee and staff from CCF and the organizations supported by LASIF. In addition, the Fellows have had opportunities to share their presentation and insights with broader audiences who are interested in the Fellows’ findings and recommendations specifically, and with those who are interested in the Fellowship and the LASIF refresh process more broadly.