Higher Education Initiative: Investing in students, schools & new ideas

Higher Education

Higher Education Initiative: Investing in students, schools & new ideas

Higher Education

Improving access to higher education is central to Koret’s core priority of enhancing the quality of life in the Bay Area. Earning a college degree provides a critical pathway for the next generation to productive employment, financial stability, and social mobility.

In 2020, Koret announced a new five-year $50 million Higher Education Initiative. Grants have been made to twelve Bay Area colleges and universities, both to fund programs at the individual institutions and also to create opportunities for collaboration between schools. To better understand the environment and needs at each campus, we consulted separately with the heads of the various institutions, to hear about their priorities and challenges. Common concerns emerged: increasing student success for historically under-represented populations; recruiting and retaining promising researchers; advancing innovation; and improving the campus community. Currently, the widespread shift to remote learning, as a result of the pandemic, means leaders at many schools are re-thinking campus life, from classrooms to housing, from communal dining to library and laboratory services. Discretionary funding from Koret allows leadership to accelerate development of new learning modes and new ways to create a sense of community.

Given that the pandemic and economic uncertainties have deepened and accelerated challenges schools were already facing, Koret sees this as a critical time to provide long-term support to Bay Area institutions. To spark new thinking, the initiative seeks to promote partnerships and collaborations, as well as to contribute to student success. The drop-down sections below offer glimpses into some of the programs these grants are supporting.

  • Supporting transfer students: University of San Francisco

    Transferring from a community college to a four-year institution can present challenges. If units don’t transfer, students find themselves needing to repeat courses in order to complete degree requirements. Support services for transfer students at their new campus tend to be under-resourced. Many transfer students are first-generation college attendees. They are often from lower-income families and/or are under-represented minorities. Several Bay Area universities are developing ways to reach out to transfer candidates early, providing guidance in mapping their transfer pathway, and then helping them to complete their degree in two years.

    In recent years, the University of San Francisco (USF) has made progress in recruiting, admitting, and graduating more transfer students. Using the UC system’s Transfer Pathway program as a model, in conjunction with the California Community Colleges Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) pathway, USF has streamlined the course-approval process and formalized partnerships with two key feeder community colleges, Foothill and DeAnza, which together comprise Foothill-De Anza Community College District (FHDA).

    Existing philanthropic support for the FHDA-USF partnership is focused on humanities-related degrees. USF sought Koret funding to expand its support of transfer students across a spectrum of degree programs, by developing articulation agreements with its top 10 feeder schools for USF’s top 10 majors.

    A new web-based information hub will help prospective transfer students easily verify which of their courses are accepted by USF toward degree requirements. The hub will include an advising page for transfer students to support recruitment, retention, and on-time graduation. The Koret grant will also provide for a program manager and for staff to support the Registrar’s Office in mapping multiple partnership agreements with community colleges into the new online system.

  • Preparing students for careers: UC Davis

    Career preparation involves much more than simply completing coursework. In today’s world, hands-on experience and meaningful internships are increasingly important. First-generation college attendees and low-income students are often at a disadvantage in this regard—they tend to have less access to applicable work experience or to networks and connections that could strengthen their career launch.

    UC Davis has embarked on a “Big Idea” campus-wide initiative to help students identify a well-informed career path at the beginning of their studies. Koret is the lead funder for a pilot program of the College of Biological Sciences, designed to support students in preparing to successfully launch their careers. Titled BioLaunch, the program will complement coursework and internships with ongoing advising from faculty, career center specialists, and near-peer mentors. After completing their freshman year, students will be eligible for BioLaunch fellowships to apply their skills and gain exposure to critical real-world experience. The BioLaunch program is designed to serve as a model that can be replicated in other UC Davis colleges or departments.

  • Promoting diversity in STEM careers: San Jose State University

    Nationwide, women and minorities are still vastly underrepresented in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) workforce, despite efforts to increase diversity. Access to these fields is limited by a number of factors, including internal and external biases or stereotypes, a lack of exposure to STEM topics, and a shortage of high-profile racial and ethnic role models.

    San Jose State (SJSU) is working to diversify the STEM career pipeline by supporting students before and as they enter college. Koret funding will support SJSU’s Jay Pinson STEM Education Program, focused on increasing student interest and preparedness for STEM studies at the university level. SJSU’s teacher-training pilot program will be expanded to approximately 25 STEM instructors in grades 11 and 12 at San Jose high schools serving large percentages of female and under-represented minority students. Using a train-the-trainer model, the program will support teachers in integrating STEM concepts into English language arts, social studies, and other core content areas. In addition, Koret funding will support efforts to strengthen partnerships with local school districts and community colleges, allowing SJSU to increase engagement with Silicon Valley innovators and enterprises and to amplify SJSU’s impact beyond the campus.

  • Recruiting & retaining talent: UC San Francisco

    Given the high cost of living in the Bay Area and the increasingly competitive culture of academic recruiting, discretionary funding can play a significant part in increasing institutions’ ability to recruit and retain the highest caliber faculty.

    At UC San Francisco (UCSF), Koret has renewed support for the Chancellor’s Fund, which has already allowed the university to retain top-notch faculty who are heavily recruited by private institutions with access to considerable endowments, research support, and lower cost of living. Through flexible funding, the Chancellor has been able to retain top faculty with a combination of competitive salaries as well as financial resources for lab space, staff, and equipment.

    Continued discretionary funding from Koret increases the chancellor’s capacity to act quickly when opportunities arise to secure future leaders in the health field. This includes attracting new faculty at the beginning of their careers, recruiting advanced faculty, and retaining star talent. This flexibility fortifies UCSF’s commitment to remain a leading institution, able to provide brilliant thinkers with the resources to support and accelerate their vital work. The uniquely collaborative culture of UCSF has allowed it to seed some of the greatest advances in medicine and to continue to anticipate the healthcare of tomorrow.

  • Cross-disciplinary research: Stanford University

    At Stanford University, the Koret Foundation is supporting programs that connect students and faculty across disciplines to advance knowledge and research, encourage collaborations among American and Israeli researchers, and strengthen the campus community.

    Koret funding is also supporting two new grant programs within Stanford’s School of Medicine. “Early career faculty development” grants provide flexible funding to assistant professors to pursue innovative biomedical research. Also known as “jumpstarts,” relatively small grants can support the research that leads to larger, prestigious grants, and thus impact a career trajectory. “Catalyst” grants will award funding for early-stage research projects, giving selected faculty the means to pursue cutting edge ideas with the potential to transform human health.

BioLaunch students at UC Davis
BioLaunch students at UC Davis
Students at USF. Photo: Courtesy of University of San Francisco
Junior faculty at the Stanford School of Medicine. Photo: Mark Tuschman.
Dr. Saul Villeda, Assistant Professor of Anatomy at UCSF
Students at USF. Photo: Courtesy of University of San Francisco
Junior faculty at the Stanford School of Medicine. Photo: Paul J. Keitz.
Chemical Engineering student at San Jose State University. Photo: David Schmitz Photography

The Higher Education grants support schools in developing programs for the long term. Koret is investing in the next generation of talent, innovation, and leadership. As part of this, it is vital to ensure that all who aspire to earn a college degree, including first-generation students and the historically under-represented, have an opportunity to enter college well prepared to thrive there and to leave well positioned to lead fulfilling lives. They should have as little debt as possible, and have the confidence, skills, and opportunity to contribute to society.

Rounding out Koret’s Higher Education Initiative, grants have also been awarded to support endeavors and innovations in other academic areas that align with Koret’s over-arching goals and have large potential impact at individual campuses. See the full list here.

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