Higher Achievement featured on Inside Philanthropy

“The Program is Working.” Why this Funder is Upping Its Investment in Afterschool

Published on March 11, 2016 by Tracey DeFrancesco
bit.ly/1UHm673 | Inside Philanthropy

Many foundations have long recognized the importance of after-school program funding, whether the focus is arts, STEM, or general academics. Mott has been a leader in this area for many years, while the Open Society Foundations has backed after-school for two decades, especially in New York City. It appears to be money well spent. After-school programs—along with summer learning and other extended learning programs—not only lower school dropout rates and improve academic performance, they can reduce juvenile crime by keeping kids busy. Of course, any working parent knows how crucial it is to have some place safe where your child can go after school or during the summer months.

One money magnet in this space is Higher Achievement, a 40-year-old nonprofit that runs after-school and summer academic programs for middle school students from underserved communities in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Richmond. The results are impressive: 95 percent of Higher Achievement alumni go on to graduate high school on time. Results like this explain why Higher Achievement has pulled down some big grants in the past decade. That said, much of its support is on a smaller scale, from more regional funders.

Which is why a three-year grant of $1.89 million from New York Life Foundation is worth noting. The grant will facilitate the expansion of the nonprofit’s work. Along with the grant comes a formal partnership between the two organizations that brings in New York Life employees to serve as volunteers.

The New York Life Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the insurance company giant founded in 1845, has surpassed $200 million in charitable giving that focuses on children. Just a few weeks ago, we wrote about how the foundation leads the way in funding childhood bereavement, giving over $25 million to organizations that help kids deal with the loss of loved ones. For many years the foundation has also made an array of educational investments. In 2013, it embarked on new work to support afterschool, summer, and expanded day programs that help disadvantaged middle school students make a successful transition to high school. Since then, it has awarded over $23 million in grants to this focus area.

All this helps explain the recent gift to Higher Achievement. “After meeting the students and seeing the program in action, it was clear that learning was taking place and that Higher Achievement’s rigorous program was helping to prepare the students academically and socially for the challenges of high school,” said Marlyn Torres, senior program officer of the New York Life Foundation. “The program is working.”

Higher Achievement will use the $1.89 million to work toward three goals:

  1. Grow Higher Achievement to a total of 17 centers that provide 1,360 underserved middle school students with 650 additional hours of academic programming and mentoring per year;
  2. Codify Higher Achievement’s program model, distribute new curriculum that is aligned to national and state standards, and provide more training resources for staff and mentors; and
  3. Undertake a new strategic planning process to define Higher Achievement’s impact and influence in each community served.

It’s striking to see how much extra learning time can come from after-school programs. One 2013 study found that participation in Higher Achievement led to the equivalent of 48 additional days of math learning and 30 more days of English instruction. Those numbers seem to support the common sense conclusion that after-school programs are crucial to closing the opportunity gap for less fortunate kids.