Helios Education Foundation: Grants for College Readiness


OVERVIEW: This funder's agenda is to improve college access and success for students in Arizona and Florida. Helios concentrates its grantmaking in three main impact areas: Early childhood education, grades 5-12, and college scholarships. Its college readiness grantmaking activities emphasize scholarships and college access networks.

IP TAKE: Nurturing a “college-going culture” is central to this funder’s approach. Its college readiness program has a heavy STEM emphasis and its postsecondary success program emphasizes multifaceted support to make sure students earn degrees and graduate career-ready. In order to be eligible for funding, grantseekers must be based in Arizona or Florida or have programs operating in these states. It is important to bear in mind that Helios does not accept unsolicited LOIs.

PROFILE: The Helios Foundation was created with proceeds from the sale of Southwest Student Services Corporation, a student loan services firm. Its goal is to create greater opportunities for college access and success in Arizona and Florida. Large numbers of students in both states who enter college never complete a degree program. Helios seeks to change this dynamic by working to foster what it calls a “college-going culture” in Arizona and Florida across both states. Since its beginning in 2004, the foundation has invested millions of dollars into its programs and initiatives.

Helios focuses heavily on strengthening student supports critical to college persistence and creating pathways aligned to high-demand careers, both of which increase the likelihood of degree completion. Its goal is “the successful completion of a postsecondary license, certificate or degree for every student, leading to meaningful career opportunities and a high quality of life.”

Important to note about this funder is that its grantmaking is limited to Arizona and Florida. The foundation has offices in both states. Organizations seeking funding from Helios should be based in Arizona or Florida or have programs operating in these states.

This funder recognizes that college preparation does not begin in high school, but rather is a process that begins early in a child's education. Helios concentrates its grantmaking in three main impact areas: Early childhood education, College and Career Readiness, and Postsecondary Completion.

In terms of College and Career Readiness (targeted at what Helios calls the “transition years”), the emphasis is on “the transition from middle to high school,” which it identifies as “set[ting] the stage for success in postsecondary education.” STEM is a high priority here for “academic rigor and relevance” as well as teacher attraction, training, and retention. Going back to that emphasis on a “college-going culture,” Helios also seeks to get all stakeholders - families, schools, and community members - invested in ensuring that students realize their academic potential.

Once students do reach postsecondary education, Helios is ready with its Postsecondary Completion program. The three-pronged approach at this point seeks to ensure that students complete their postsecondary degrees - and in a timely manner - through helping them academically “to ‘catch up’ while pursuing a degree or certificate,” providing scholarships designed to “improve persistence and completion,” and guidance “so that the [student’s] path of study is directly tied to career opportunities.”

Helios Foundation grants in postsecondary success mostly support scholarships and other activities geared at access and retention for low-income, at-risk students. The foundation helpfully provides an Investment History page that offers a searchable database of past giving and a pie chart that breaks down funding by giving area.

The Helios Foundation's college readiness initiatives are not limited to providing postsecondary scholarships for deserving students. It also supports programs that are designed to reduce the need for remedial instruction in college and help students enrolled in such courses advance to credit-bearing courses. The rate of remedial or developmental course enrollment among college students is a national problem, and the states targeted by the Helios Foundation are no exception. Research has shown that students enrolled in remedial classes are less likely to complete a degree.

Organizations not known to the Helios Foundation may face barriers obtaining funding because it does not accept unsolicited proposals. Also worth noting is that the foundation “does not support capital campaigns, nor will it provide support to schools for general operating funds, teacher recruitment, professional development or classroom materials unless related to a specific program or initiative to be funded.”

However, because Helios actively supports the college access networks in Florida and Arizona, organizations working in the college access and readiness arenas in either state should become involved with the network to help gain the the foundation’s attention.


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