The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has rolled out its first round of grants in a much-publicized effort to double the number of low-income students who earn a postsecondary degree or credential by age 26—an increase of about 250,000 graduates each year.
The grants total $69 million to more than 20 organizations that include policy organizations, training and research organization and social and education institutions (See story, right). Foundation officials said the awards reflect the foundation’s commitment to use data to shape its investments by building on existing successful programs and policies, tapping innovation in areas where there has been limited success and, over the longer term, bringing the most promising practices to scale. Several of the projects will focus on community college students.
The foundation will first work to build commitment among key policymakers, educators and business and community leaders to increase postsecondary completions rates, according to program officials. Grant-funded work will begin to establish an evidence base for change through awareness-raising research and reports, like “Measuring Up” (see Page 10), and the development of policy recommendations to drive greater access and completion.
Additionally, given the nation’s economic challenges, foundation officials said it is critical that young people learn the skills necessary to prepare them for new jobs. Investments in research and best practices will begin to give educators, students and policymakers a better understanding of which postsecondary degrees produce the biggest returns in the labor market.
The foundation will also invest in efforts that ensure the postsecondary education system can support increased completion rates in two- and four-year colleges. A critical barrier to postsecondary success is the poor preparation of many incoming students and the ability of colleges to adequately address the problem, according to the foundation.
Nearly half of all college students require some remedial instruction, a number that rises to nearly 60 percent in community colleges. This often delays student progress and limits completion rates.
Foundation investments will be aimed at accelerating success in remedial courses in community colleges, including a grant to MDC, a research and policy nonprofit, to build on successful pilot programs within the Achieving the Dream network of two-year colleges. MDC will also support data systems in up to five states that will publicly track and assess remediation education performance in two- and four-year colleges.
“The Achieving the Dream network of colleges has made significant progress in developing innovative programs designed to improve remedial education, some of which show real promise,” said Jamie Merisotis, president of Lumina Foundation for Education. “We will now be able to scale up the most promising of these programs in order to impact more students and begin significantly increasing completion rates.”
Finally, the Gates Foundation will invest in initiatives to offer young people the financial, social and academic support to succeed in college. For example, MDRC will work over four years to grow and evaluate its Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration at two- and four-year colleges.
Initially piloted in Louisiana, the performance-based program will grow to four areas around the country and give students cash and other benefits to enroll in college full-time and maintain a minimum grade point average.