Feds grant $20 million to expand college access

More than 1,700 applicants vied for ED's i3 grants.
More than 1,700 applicants vied for ED's Investing in Innovation grants.

Students in Pennsylvania and Kentucky will get an extra dose of academic advising and career counseling—aided by educational technology—after the U.S. Department of Education (ED) gave $20 million to an organization aiming to boost college access among first-generation, minority, and low-income students.

The $20 million grant to the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, will be matched with a $4 million grant from the GE Foundation that will target greater college access for low-income students in Louisville, Ky., and Erie, Pa.

The federal grant was made through the Investing in Innovation program, which doled out more than $600 million in September to colleges, universities, nonprofits, and school districts nationwide. Investing in Innovation was created in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

More than 1,700 organizations applied for Investing in Innovation funds this year, according to the program’s web site.

The grant will support an initiative known as “Using Data to Inform College Access Programming in the 21st-Century High School,” or Using DICAP, according to an announcement released Oct. 21 by COE.

Students at three high schools in Erie and three in Louisville will get help from local colleges and businesses in an effort to raise college access among students least likely to seek a degree after high school.

COE President Arnold Mitchem said the federal grant and the GE Foundation’s $4 million contribution would let the nonprofit establish a “systemic approach to deeply penetrate the lives of low-income, first-generation, and minority students.”

These federal and private-sector grants are the latest round of financial support for low-income students, who attend and graduate from college at a much lower rate than their middle-class counterparts.

The Next Gen Learning Challenges program, launched in late June by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and headed by nonprofit educational technology supporter Educause, will aim to raise America’s high school graduation rate—which hovers around 50 percent among Hispanic, African American, and low-income students—and ensure that college freshmen are ready for higher education without having to take non-credit-bearing remedial classes.

Only half of Americans who enroll in a postsecondary school will earn a degree, according to national statistics, with as few as 25 percent of low-income students completing a degree program.

The program’s first set of goals includes combining online courses with traditional classroom curriculum, devising ways to measure students’ learning progress using algorithms in real time, and expanding access to free online educational tools, according to the Next Gen web site.

The Gates Foundation has earmarked $3.6 million of the grant money to be used for remedial training.

A group of 26 college faculty from 16 states will forge an online community aiming to boost the number of educators teaching remedial lessons in two-year schools.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced in December that it would donate $12.9 million in new educational technology funding for community colleges, including the creation of a national certification for teachers of remedial college courses.

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