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At 50, Literacy Network Empowers Dane County More Than Ever Thanks to Funding from Ascendium

As Literacy Network celebrates 50 years of transforming lives through literacy, the organization faces an unprecedented demand for its services. More than 55,000 adults in Dane County struggle with low literacy — enough to fill more than three Kohl Centers (source: Literacy Network). Literacy Network supports them by offering literacy services to improve their skills in English language communications, reading comprehension, and information technology. As a result, these adults advance their careers, help their kids succeed in school, become U.S. citizens, understand health information, and obtain their high school diploma or other degrees.

Now, thanks to a three-year, $375,000 grant from fellow nonprofit Ascendium Education Group, Literacy Network will be able to support more Dane County residents than ever.

Local Support and Program Outcomes: Sustaining Impactful Growth

In 2022, the Literacy for Opportunity programs, offering core English language and essential literacy services through group classes and one-on-one tutoring, saw an 18% rise in participation from the previous year. By June of 2023, more than 120 individuals were eagerly awaiting enrollment, highlighting a significant increase in immigration and a pressing demand for accessible and impactful literacy initiatives in Dane County.

Ascendium’s grant will enable Literacy Network to:

  • Increase the annual number of Literacy for Opportunity program participants by 17%, from 300 to 350.
  • Add digital literacy instruction and tutoring in response to student needs, including a nationally recognized certificate (Northstar Digital Literacy).
  • Add at least one English as a Second Language (ESL) class at the most-requested level, where and when students need it most.
  • Add at least one ESL tutoring group session.
  • Add much-needed support for student services and program capacity for English speakers working on their reading, writing, and digital skills.

Addressing the Growing Need: Immigration and Beyond

Dane County’s immigrant population has grown substantially in recent years (source: New American Economy)According to Vera Institute of Justice, immigrant-led households in Madison, where Ascendium is based, have an estimated $1.3 billion in spending power. Among the newcomers Literacy Network welcomed in 2023 were refugees from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, and Ukraine. Over 130 Literacy Network students were refugees — the most in the organization’ s history.

Recently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services awarded the organization its first direct federal contract to provide English language and civics instruction to citizenship applicants. It will also collaborate with Centro Hispano to provide legal services.

Here are additional statistics demonstrating the importance of literacy services (source: Literacy Network).

  • One in seven adults in Dane County, or approximately 60,000 people, do not yet have the English or literacy skills needed to navigate life in the community.
  • Twenty-six percent of U.S. children are in immigrant families but account for 43% of all children in poverty.
  • Adults who participate in 100 or more hours of basic education programs increase their annual incomes by an average of nearly $10,000.
  • Immigrants who become naturalized citizens have about 10% higher family income.
  • A mother’s literacy level is the greatest determinant in a child’s educational success.

Supporting Madisonians with language development and access to opportunities is crucial to maximizing their positive impact on our community and economy. As Literacy Network conducts this transformative work with Ascendium’s support, the organizations invite the media and the community to recognize the role of literary services in closing opportunity gaps.

About Literacy Network

Literacy Network was founded in 1974 and serves approximately 1,000 low-income adults each year in Dane County, Wisconsin. With more than 500 annual volunteers, the organization helps adults achieve their goals through personalized education services and support. For more information, visit

About Ascendium

Ascendium Education Group is committed to making education and training beyond high school a reality for more people. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, we fund initiatives across the U.S. that help learners from low-income backgrounds achieve upward mobility; provide student and employee success solutions to colleges and businesses; invest in education-focused innovations to improve learner outcomes; and provide information, tools, and counseling to help millions of borrowers successfully repay their federal student loans. While we have many roles, we have one goal — elevating opportunity by creating a world where everyone can rise to their highest potential. To learn more, visit