FutureMakers Chosen for National Effort to Improve Rural Higher Education and Workforce Systems

FutureMakers Coalition has been chosen by CivicLab as one of five rural partnerships across the U.S. to participate in a two-year initiative to improve higher education and workforce systems.  Supported by Ascendium Education Group, FutureMakers Coalition will receive training, technical assistance, and direct financial support valued at $150,000 to develop and implement system-level strategies that create pathways to prosperity for low-income learners.

FutureMakers Coalition was selected through a national call for proposals.  Each partnership in the cohort includes higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, public agencies, private-sector partners, and other local stakeholders that work together to improve education and workforce outcomes.  To be selected, partnerships were required to submit plans that both improve outcomes for their residents and make lasting changes on higher education and workforce systems during the two-year grant period.

“Though many partnerships are deserving of this recognition and support, FutureMakers Coalition demonstrated they had the relationships, capacity, and capability to make real change,” said Dakota Pawlicki, director of Talent Hubs at CivicLab.

“Hendry County’s economy is expanding quickly and FutureMakers Coalition is committed to supporting the education and workforce development needed to ensure the best possible outcomes for the area,” said Tessa LeSage, FutureMakers director, Collaboratory, which is serving as the backbone organization for the FutureMakers Coalition.  “We couldn’t be more excited to work with Florida Southwestern State College, Florida Gulf Coast University, Hendry County District Schools, The Joseph Project 863, Hendry Economic Development Council, CareerSource Southwest Florida, and AirGlades on this effort to transform the workforce in Hendry County.”

FutureMakers Coalition joins a cohort of other partnerships from California,  Indiana, New Mexico, and Texas.  This cohort will meet virtually and in-person to share ideas, resources, and receive technical assistance.

“Hendry County is rapidly growing and upcoming projects will require our community to be competitive in all areas, especially skilled workforce. We are thankful to be a part of this initiative to improve the economic mobility and quality of life for our citizens,” said Keitha Daniels, director,  Hendry County Economic Development Council. “Historically, Hendry County has high rates of unemployment and low high school/GED attainment. We believe this opportunity will have a far-reaching and long-lasting effect on our communities by building pathways for achievement through more diverse and equitable approaches in education. Our goal is to provide qualified, top-level employees for future businesses considering Hendry County while providing our citizens with the tools they need to achieve their career goals.”

“Rural communities have largely been left out of national initiatives designed to improve postsecondary education and workforce outcomes,” said Kirstin Yeado, program officer at Ascendium. “Ascendium is pleased to support this diverse cohort of partners committed to strengthening their collaborative efforts and building the systems necessary to ensure more learners from low-income backgrounds earn degrees and credentials. We anticipate this work generating many lessons learned on how to build the capacity of postsecondary education and workforce training systems within a rural context.”

The initiative launched in February 2022 with FutureMakers Coalition’s guiding team attending a two-day Stakeholder Engagement Process Learning Lab at CivicLab’s headquarters in Columbus, Ind. The team will return in April 2022 for CivicLab’s System Building Lab to improve plans for making lasting change.

FutureMakers Coalition is a regional collective impact initiative that has been designated a Talent Hub by Lumina Foundation in partnership with The Kresge Foundation to support local efforts to increase educational attainment. Formed in 2015 around existing regional collaborations, the Coalition is committed to creating a cradle-to-career pathway to ensure success for traditional students and adult learners. FutureMakers Coalition was one of Lumina Foundation’s 75 national Community Partners in Attainment and is a member of the National Talent Network. Collaboratory provides backbone/administrative support to FutureMakers Coalition.

FutureMakers Coalition encourages businesses to join and invest in sustaining this community-changing initiative by visiting https://www.futuremakerscoalition.com or emailing Tessa LeSage at [email protected].



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About Ascendium Education Group: Ascendium Education Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to helping people reach the education and career goals that matter to them. Ascendium invests in initiatives designed to increase the number of students from low-income backgrounds who complete postsecondary degrees, certificates and workforce training programs, with an emphasis on first-generation students, incarcerated adults, rural community members, students of color and veterans. Ascendium’s work identifies, validates and expands best practices to promote large-scale change at the institutional, system and state levels, with the intention of elevating opportunity for all. For more information, visit https://www.ascendiumphilanthropy.org.


About CivicLab: CivicLab, (a program of the Community Education Coalition) is a nonprofit institute dedicated to advancing the practice of civic collaboration and leading complex social systems. CivicLab’s approach is to: 1) learn what makes community collaboration work at its best, 2) document the discoveries, and 3) teach and share the practices broadly. The purpose of the work is to help communities increase their collective capacity—which is their ability to get things done, together. Since its inception, CivicLab has partnered with over 300 communities and organizations across the U.S. and trained more than 14,000 leaders of foundations, educational institutions, government, corporations, and community development organizations.


CivicLab is the home of Talent Hubs and the National Talent Network.  The Talent Hub designation signifies that a local or regional cross-sector partnership has met rigorous standards for creating environments that attract, retain, and cultivate talent, particularly among today’s students, many of whom are people of color, the first in their families to go to college, and from low-income households.  The designation serves both as an aspirational target for other cities to aim for and a platform from which cities designated as Talent Hubs can build.  The National Talent Network is a group of nearly 100 cross-sector partnerships working collaboratively to connect learning to economic opportunity in the places they call home.


For more information, visit https://www.rurallearningsystems.org