This Unique Funder is Solely Focused on College Readiness, Access, and Completion in Texas

 photo:  Max Sky/shutterstock

photo:  Max Sky/shutterstock

Hear a name like the Greater Texas Foundation, and you might imagine a community foundation that addresses all sorts of issue areas. But in fact, GTF is a corporate spin-off funder with just one focus: college readiness, access and completion—with a focus on underserved populations. The foundation emerged from the Greater Texas Student Loan Corporation, which once provided financial assistance to Texas students by encouraging financial institutions to participate in the Federal Family Education Loan Program and letting students and schools know about this program. The Greater Texas Foundation emerged in 2001 in its current form and the loan corporation was turned into a for-profit subsidiary.

GTF recently crossed our radar when it announced a new $3 million grant for a rural student success initiative. That money is going to the Texas A&M Foundation to boost a unique statewide platform with youth development staff and place-based county agents. Rural education has been an increasingly important topic among Texas funders lately, which makes sense, considering that there are around 900,000 rural students scattered around the state.

Tyson Voelkel, president of the Texas A&M Foundation, said:

Texas’ vast rural landscape makes it incredibly difficult to deliver a consistent framework of college access to rural students and their parents. Through this partnership with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, which employs staff in all 254 Texas counties, Greater Texas Foundation is helping our state make strides toward improving access to education.

Partnerships like this one are a key to how GTF operates. It's looking to leverage its funds strategically to advance its mission, which it says it pursues not just by forming partnerships, but by "supporting research, sharing knowledge, and making grants." (Read about its strategy here.)

Another example of GTF's approach can be seen in a recent $500,000 grant to the University of Texas at Austin for an online tool to streamline postsecondary pathways. Inefficient transfer is a big issue among Texas students that GTF is trying to target with grants like this. With a more streamlined process, students hopefully won’t lose course credits that they have earned when switching schools, thus spending more time and money to complete their degrees.

Last fall, the foundation gave this same university a $130,000 grant to tackle another aspect of the college transfer issue. GTF provided research funding to uncover ways to increase the number of students who transfer from two-year schools to four-year schools at all. This is an important regional issue because only about 20 percent of community college students in Texas actually ever make it to a four-year university. And the ones who do make it there often face discouraging obstacles with credit transfer.

But transfer challenges are just one of a number of areas that GTF has been involved with, lately. Last year, it made a $500,000 grant to support the El Paso Collective Impact Initiative, a "foundational strategy for aligning the community, utilizing data to inform strategies, and accelerating efforts to increase student success." It also made a $542,750 grant to support "the Puente model in Texas, which combines accelerated instruction in reading and writing; counseling and a course in student success techniques; and one-on-one mentoring by community role models." The year before, GTF made a $600,000 grant to "support and empower local institutions of higher education (two-year, four-year, and technical schools) to collaborate and design strategies that accelerate the number of students who graduate with STEM degrees within their own regions and across Texas." And two years before that, it gave $1,250,000 to support a "multi-year collective impact initiative in the Rio Grande Valley designed to dramatically improve educational and life outcomes for students by strengthening the pipeline from K-12 through postsecondary and into the workforce."

Clearly, GTF is a funder that believes it's important to pull a range of levers to advance its overall mission of ensuring that Texas students are prepared for college, have access to get enrolled, and have the tools they need to complete postsecondary degrees. Since 2001, the foundation has approved more than $55 million in grants. The grant application process begins with a letter of inquiry, which you can read more about here.