The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has announced that it will invest almost $35 million over five years to dramatically boost community college graduation rates.
The Completion by Design program will award grants to groups of colleges that are working to devise and implement new approaches to making the college experience more responsive to today's students, who are often older and working full- or part-time to support families. During the first funding round, as many as five multi-campus groups of community colleges in the nine target states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, or Washington — will be awarded grants, with the recipients to be announced early next year. Recipients will use their grants to address the needs of low-income students by focusing on innovative approaches to financial aid counseling, course scheduling, and advising; identify ways to use technology to more efficiently serve and assess students; and create strategies for intervening at critical points along a student's college career.
Community colleges in the U.S. serve nearly eleven million students, and enrollment has surged as the recession caused many Americans to return to school for additional training and education. According to recent federal data, however, only 22 percent of first-time full-time students in community colleges graduate in three years. That rate is even worse for Hispanic and African-American students, at 17 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
"Most students today who are pursuing an education beyond high school are also balancing the demands of work and family," said Gates Foundation co-chair Melinda Gates. "Yet colleges haven't adapted to this new reality. Completion by Design will give enterprising colleges the resources they need to pursue what works for students....We're learning every day about the supports and structure today's student needs to be successful. We're committed to helping colleges innovate and implement solutions so that all young people who want a postsecondary education have a legitimate chance to get one."