The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced a commitment of up to $110 million to help community colleges boost graduation rates by replacing weak remedial programs with new technologies and fresh ideas.
Made as part of the Gates Foundation's postsecondary success initiative, the commitment will enable community colleges to research and scale-up innovative programs that are designed to help under-prepared students spend less time and money catching up, and ultimately improve student retention and completion. About half the commitment already has been given to colleges and programs, while the remaining $57 million will be awarded over the next two years guided by lessons learned from earlier investments. For instance, the foundation has learned that high-quality remedial education starts with effective collaboration among middle schools, high schools, and colleges; blends credit-bearing classes with enhanced academic supports; and is flexible and personalized to address specific skill gaps.
Nationally, it is estimated that up to 60 percent of students enrolling in community colleges must take at least one remedial course (also called developmental education). Only about 25 percent of all students who take such courses earn a degree within eight years of enrolling, however. What's more, remedial courses cost students, colleges, and taxpayers an estimated $2 billion a year.
"Community colleges led the way on college access; now they must lead the way on college completion," said Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda French Gates, who delivered the closing speech at the ninetieth annual American Association of Community Colleges convention. "Research shows that improving remediation is the single most important thing community colleges can do to increase the number of students who graduate with a certificate or a degree....Either [community colleges] can keep doing what you've been doing, in which case you will gradually find yourself able to meet fewer and fewer of your students' needs, or you can innovate. You can educate your students according to new models that yield dramatically better results for a fraction of the cost."