What We’re Learning

Struggles Ahead for Education-Related Nonprofits. Turmoil for Low-Income, College Bound Students.

By Cynthia Rivera Weissblum President and CEO of the Edwin Gould Foundation

We are, to state the obvious, in uncertain times. As a lifelong New Yorker and a lifelong builder of education-related nonprofits, I see that the pandemic has dealt a stunning blow to the organizations in our Accelerator and in our entire sector. Even more crucially, it has added an unprecedented level of chaos and risk to the already perilous journey the low-income students face on their path to college graduation.

Like so many aspects of this pandemic, poor communities are disproportionally affected. Hardworking parents, many of whom have toiled on long shifts for hourly wages, are making an almost unimaginably stressful choice: risk their health and the health of their loved ones or risk hunger and homelessness. Others have been furloughed or are unemployed. Low-income high school students, young people who have kept their eyes fixed on achievement and college admission, find themselves struggling to adapt to hastily-constructed distance learning courses. Many institutions of higher education, which once seemed eager to create a path for students, are themselves retrenching and trying to find new ways to weather the economic storm.

The nonprofits we currently serve, six organizations dedicated to helping low-income students get to and through college, are facing a singular set of challenges. How do they help students plan for their educational future when the ground under our feet is shifting? How do our organizations continue their thoughtful, high-quality, high-touch programs in the face of dramatically reduced budgets and, for some, cuts in staff?

Although there is much we don’t know, we have great compassion for the hardship that is being so broadly meted out in our changing world. We feel deep grief for what is being lost– in our communities and our cities. At the Foundation, we’ve been providing some direct aid to the families our organizations serve through a recently created emergency fund. We have been helping our organization leaders sort through their most pressing challenges and prepare for the new world. We also know that every crisis brings opportunity. We are inspired by the energy and the innovative spirit our leaders bring (even working remotely!) to us every day. And as always, we are inspired by the perseverance of the low-income young people our organizations serve. We know that times have changed– and we’re not sure what the future will look like — but we know we are stronger together.