Despite rising costs of attending college and growing levels of student debt nationwide, post-secondary education remains key to economic equity and mobility for individuals and for the prosperity of our communities.

On March 23, 2018, Trellis Foundation hosted a Summit on Postsecondary Access, Affordability & Attainment, where we were joined by many of the foremost stakeholders in Texas to discuss both public policy and philanthropic levers to support statewide priorities, such as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60x30TX. The Summit served as the formal public launch for Trellis Company’s newly-formed Foundation.


Rob Kaplan | Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Andres Alcantar | Texas Workforce Commission
Mike Morath | Texas Education Agency
Raymund Paredes, Ph.D. | Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board
Jacob Fraire | Texas Association of Community Colleges
Ray Martinez | Independent Colleges & Universities of Texas
Rissa McGuire, Ph.D. | Council of Public University Presidents & Chancellors
Kevin Byrne | Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
John Fitzpatrick | EducateTX/Communities Foundation of Texas
Sidney Hacker | Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Sue McMillin | Greater Texas Foundation

Trellis Foundation supports the innovation and growth of ideas and strategies that positively influence postsecondary attainment and affordability. We believe all students deserve equal educational opportunities, and that means that some students need, and should receive, additional benefits, support, and/or resources.

Attendees and presenters concluded that, despite current debates on the importance of postsecondary education, college is worth it, but the need for financial assistance is great. Philanthropic dollars can serve in a key catalyst role, but long-term sustainability must be through systems change and prioritization of public funding.

Rob Kaplan, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas
Summit conversations kicked off with an interview by Evan Smith, CEO and Founder of The Texas Tribune, of Rob Kaplan, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Topics ranged from the current state of the economy to the importance of international trade to the role of education in Texas’ future.

Key takeaways:

  • Population growth is key to GDP growth. While nationally aging demographics over the upcoming years will slow GDP growth, robust migration (from other countries and states) to Texas will counter this trend.
  • Workforce development is critical: 60% of small business owners report a lack of skilled workers to fill open positions.
  • Support of early education is key for improved outcomes across the pipeline, including at the postsecondary level.

Tri-Agency Collaboration
Following his robust discussion with Kaplan, Smith moderated a panel of the commissioners from the Texas Education Association, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the Texas Workforce Commission.

Top takeaway: Post-secondary education and credentials remain key for economic mobility, including for middle-skills jobs. Students need to continue to receive this message.

The conversation provided an update on progress to date on Governor Greg Abbott’s Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, including those charges relevant to higher education affordability:

Key needs going forward:

  • Targeted resources with specific outcomes in mind
  • Uniformly ensure students understand relevance of education to career opportunities
    • “We have to elevate our ability to inform and excite students.” – Andrés Alcantar, Chairman, Texas Workforce Commission
  • Re-elevate teaching as a career
  • Identify and implement college-ready assessment measures that provide coverage for 100% of students

Higher Education Sectors
Panelists representing associations for three higher education sectors discussed opportunities for collaboration and current best practices in postsecondary education to support students. Educators and policy-makers continue to grapple with challenges such as the magnitude of scale in Texas, the perception of the value of postsecondary education, and the perception versus reality of students served by institutions in Texas. Despite this, several promising practices have emerged, including:

  • Dual credit
  • Focus on financial education and emergency support
  • Collaboration of community colleges and public and private nonprofit universities

Panelists cited the community effort to aid recovery following Hurricane Harvey as a key example of the sectors’ ability to collaborate. “I would argue that underneath that [join recovery efforts] was an ecosystem of working together. A foundation of collaboration,” explained Jacob Fraire, President & CEO, Texas Association of Community Colleges. “We could not have created that after a natural disaster if it had not already existed.”

Going forward, higher education institutions must:

  • Underscore both the public and private benefit of education
  • Message the value proposition of higher education and reasonable student debt
  • Remember CBO partners, particularly in areas around messaging importance and cost/debt consideration

Role of Philanthropy
To close the event’s discussions, representatives from various foundations discussed the key role that philanthropic funding can have in improving postsecondary outcomes across the state.

Key takeaways:

  • Private funding cannot supplant the role of public funding; rather it can provide opportunities to support innovation, assume risk, assess efficacy, and assist with scaling practices as a pre-cursor for eventual public funding for demonstrated effective practices.
  • Private funding can serve as a catalyst for collaboration and policy change.
  • To establish trust with grantees, funders must emphasize responsibility over accountability in metrics, provide transparency of processes and decision-making, and avoid imposing its goals against the judgement of grantees.

“As Doug Wood at the Ford Foundation has noted, grantmakers can run the risk of becoming philanthropic colonialists — imposing programs or interventions without regard for or input from those we’re intending to serve. For Trellis Foundation, it is not our intent to be the hero of the story, we are the help.”

Kristin Boyer | Trellis Foundation Executive Director

About the Author

An image of Jenny Achilles, Trellis Foundation's Director of Partnerships and Programs.

Jenny Achilles has served as program officer for Trellis Foundation (and formerly for Trellis Company/TG) since 2013. Ms. Achilles serves on the steering committees for the Grantmakers for Education Data Impact Group and the Central Texas Education Funders Network as well as the Membership Committee for the National Scholarship Providers Association. She also leads the board of directors for a dance and wellness studio in Austin.

She earned a bachelor’s of science in communication from Lamar University and master’s degrees from the University of Texas at Austin in journalism and public policy, with a focus on nonprofit studies.