The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came through on its promise to support higher education Dec. 9, donating an initial round of $69 million to programs that will boost the number of low-income students who earn a college degree.

The $69 million in grants that will support two-year colleges and their students are aimed at encouraging more 20-somethings to get a post-high school degree or certificate before starting a family.

The foundation is joining a small group of charitable organizations that target community colleges in particular, and it plans to spend up to a half-billion dollars over the next four years on this project. (See "Gates Foundation targets college graduation.")

The grants announced Dec. 9 by the Seattle-based foundation won’t supplant its efforts to reform U.S. high schools, get more children into preschool, support charter schools, and hand out millions of dollars in college scholarships, organizers said.

Hilary Pennington, director of special initiatives for the foundation’s United States program, described the effort as a targeted expansion of its work.

The money will be distributed to 22 educational organizations and programs across the U.S., according to the Gates Foundation web site.

The University of California, Los Angeles campus, will receive $7.6 million over five years to support the school’s All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity. The money will be used to conduct a research project documenting the most common hurdles for low-income young adults striving for a college degree.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education will use $5.4 million over four years to publicize and market the organization’s "Measuring Up" report, which compares and measures states’ performances in higher-education affordability, completion rates, and other areas.

The National Youth Employment Coalition–an organization dedicated to building networks for low-income, degree-seeking young people–will receive $5.6 million over four years. The organization Jobs for the Future will receive $3.3 million over three years, and Harvard College will use $1.9 million spread over four years to conduct research into boosting college enrollment and completion.

Although the Gates Foundation has always played a role in the United States, most of the grants from its $35.1 billion endowment support programs elsewhere, focusing largely on fighting diseases such as AIDS, malaria, and polio and supporting agriculture and clean water in Africa and Asia.

The foundation’s overall higher-education goal is to double the number of low-income adults who get a degree or certificate beyond high school by age 26.

It hopes to do that by focusing on college completion, arguing that while college enrollment has grown dramatically in the past 40 years, most students are not graduating with a degree or certificate.

Pennington said the foundation decided to steer its dollars to community colleges because there are a finite number to work with, they have almost no money to do their own research and development, they care a lot about low-income students, and they are highly entrepreneurial.

Higher-education officials said bolstering young adults’ degree completion rate would create jobs and pay other economic dividends.

"Education is one of America’s most important economic drivers," said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. "We must ensure that our colleges are teaching the skills that businesses will need now and in the future."

The grants announced Dec. 9 will:

• Research what kinds of higher-education promotion programs work, and support demonstration projects for new ideas.

• Encourage state leaders to share information about the value of higher education.

• Support outreach activities through organizations that target young people from low-income families.

• Identify the best remedial education programs and work toward sharing ideas with other colleges.

• Research and promote job-training programs.

• Provide scholarships for low-income students, with an emphasis on rewarding progress and performance instead of attendance.

• Find other ways to support college students, such as providing money for child care and other student needs, including housing, transportation, and emergency expenses.

Links:

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Center on Education and the Workforce


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