Gates Foundation And Major U.S. Employers Invest In Community Colleges

October 5, 2010

Graduation cap and diplomaThe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced on Monday that it would invest $34.8 million over five years to help increase graduation rates at U.S community colleges.

According to a press release, the program, called Completion by Design, will award grants to groups of community colleges that develop and implement new ways to "make the college experience more responsive to today's student".

"Most students today who are pursuing an education beyond high school are also balancing the demands of work and family. Yet colleges haven't adapted to this new reality," said Gates.

The program targets nine states: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. Each submission must address the needs of low-income students by improving financial aid counseling, course scheduling and advising. "Completion by Design aims to get community colleges to restructure how they interact with the majority of their students from the moment they enter the college to the time they graduate to provide them the quickest, straightest path to a degree," explained Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success at the Gates Foundation. Up to five proposals will be selected in early 2011.

According to The Washington Post, community colleges educate 12 million students, but lag behind four-year colleges in completion. Community college presidents cite three main problems: minimum high school graduation requirements do not match up with community college standards; students spend too much time repeating high school work that they may not need to learn; and the perceived lack of value in an associate degree by American society.

The Gates Foundation announcement coincided with President Obama's renewed focus on community colleges to boost graduation rates and improve the country's competitive edge. Politico reported that President Obama launched a national partnership between community colleges and some of the country's major employers. The program, called Skills for America's Future, already has five companies on board--PG&E, McDonald's, United Technologies, Accenture and Gap Inc. The goal of the partnership is to prepare students for the job market. "Investing in the skills and education of our workers, connecting them with potential employers, is something we should all be able to agree upon, whether Republicans or Democrats, business leaders or labor leaders," said the president.

The initiative will give $2 billion to community colleges over the next four years. Originally, the president proposed a $12 billion investment over 10 years, but Congress blocked the request, noted Politico.

Both initiatives support president Obama's goal of having the U.S. lead the world in the number of college graduates by 2020. Currently, with just two-fifths of Americans holding at least an associate degree, the U.S. is 12th in the number of adults with postsecondary degrees. Canada is the world leader with a 56 percent college complete rate.

Compiled by Staff


"Community colleges get boost,", October 5, 2010, Kendra Marr

"Foundation Launches $35 million Program to Help Boost Community College Graduation Rates,", October 4, 2010

"Gates Foundation investing in college completion,", October 4, 2010, Daniel de Vise

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