The Aurora Foundation grantmaking program

The Aurora Foundation began making grants in 2004. Since then, the foundation has allocated nearly half a million dollars in grants to about four dozen organizations that serve more than 4,100 women and girls.

From 2013–2014 the foundation conducted research on the issues confronting women in our area, intending to identify sweet spots for Aurora’s targeted funding. Subsequently, the board selected higher education as the most powerful lever to improve economic opportunity for women and girls in Greater Hartford.

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A focus on college education this decade

In our region, college-educated women have a 75% higher median income than women with a high school diploma, $47,031 compared to $26,801. The more college-educated women in an extended family, a neighborhood, a city, the more girls will see models for economic independence to give them hope for their own futures. Hence, the multi-year commitment to fund programs related to college education.

In 2015, Aurora Foundation grants went to college-readiness programs for girls and college-completion programs for women.

 

A current concentration on college-completion

Starting with the 2016 grant cycle, our funding program concentrates more narrowly on college completion. The foundation intends to identify programs with a good track record, where a multi-year funding commitment allows programs to scale up to enable more low-income women to complete their degrees within six years and thereby more speedily qualify for better-paying jobs.

 

Why college-completion programs?

The inaugural Aurora Report underscored that completing college is critical to a woman’s economic stability and wellbeing. Without a degree and the earning potential that comes with it, her opportunities are drastically limited.

For many women in Greater Hartford – especially women of color and low-income or first-generation college students – reaching graduation requires academic and social supports that meet their distinct needs.

Since 2012, Aurora has invested nearly $100,000 in college-retention programs, and we’re just getting started. Aurora prides itself in not just funding effective programs, but also being a resource and partner. Our grantees receive guidance, from the application process through final reporting of outcomes and impact.

Together, by developing, funding and delivering strategic solutions for local women in college, we can make substantial individual, family and community impact.

 

What difference does a college degree make?

Getting into college is critical, but graduating makes the difference for a living wage.

The data shows a direct correlation between level of education and earning potential. In Hartford County, women of color and low income graduate with post-secondary degrees at significantly lower rates than their counterparts. The ramifications on family economy are tremendous, as females in Hartford County are more than twice as likely as males to be the single head of a family household.

Education is an economic and social justice issue. Lack of a post-secondary degree:

  • Locks women and their families into the cycle of poverty, as they lack the necessary qualifications for higher-salary jobs.
  • Exacerbates the wage gap, which widens for women working in lower-wage jobs.
  • Increases the likelihood of dependence on welfare and other supplemental services.

 

chart-avg-earnings-by-education-level

The estimated living wage for a single adult in Connecticut is $19.08 per hour, or just under $40,000 per year. For a family with two children, the rate may go as high as $40.48 per hour depending on the age of the children and number of working adults in the household.

 

What barriers exist to successfully completing a college degree?

Women of color and low income struggle to complete post-secondary education for a variety of systemic reasons, such as lack of college-readiness, difficulty with financial aid and student debt, transportation, and childcare.

Many must also navigate academic transfers and part-time status without adequate advising or mentoring support.

Female students also frequently face additional personal adversities.

  • An increasing number of women are identified as having learning disabilities and/or mental health needs, especially anxiety and depression.
  • For first-generation college women, family responsibilities and a changing sense of self can often disrupt learning.
  • Care for children, parents and extended family impact female students’ ability to go to class, finish assignments, participate in team projects assigned to a group of students, and join in school activities that help cement their identity as a student.

 

What can Aurora Foundation do?

For many women in our region, reaching graduation requires academic and social supports that meet their distinct needs.

By investing in college-retention programs, we help women earn degrees that secure a living wage and significantly reduce their rate of dependency on welfare and other supplemental services. This effectively improves the quality of life for individuals and families, and the social and economic vitality of our communities.

For these reasons, the Aurora Foundation has decided to target its grantmaking efforts and strategic initiatives in the area of college completion. The outcomes of this investment promise to be both immediate and sustained.

We help to empower tomorrow’s leaders