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New Initiative to Double the Number of Low-Income Students in the U.S. Who Earn a Postsecondary Degree by Age 26


Foundation awards $69 million in initial grants to help more young people access and complete a postsecondary degree

SEATTLE — The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced grants totaling $69 million to organizations working to improve college enrollment and completion rates in America. With the goal of getting more young people to and through college, the foundation aims to double the number of low-income students who earn a postsecondary degree or credential with genuine value in the workplace by age 26—an increase of approximately 250,000 graduates each year.

“When our co-chairs asked what else we might do in the United States to reduce inequities, everything was on the table. But the evidence led us back to education. There is no greater door to opportunity in this country than access to a quality education,” said Allan Golston, president of the foundation’s U.S. Program. “Today, Americans without a college education live close to the poverty line for a family of four. That is why we are making a long-term commitment to dramatically increase college completion—a goal that is both ambitious and necessary.”

The launch of this new domestic initiative reflects the foundation’s commitment to strengthen educational opportunities for all Americans, as well as its optimism that in this period of constrained economic resources, innovation is essential, and success is possible. While a distinct initiative, this effort will leverage the foundation’s ongoing work to improve college-ready graduation rates.

While the rate of high school students attending college in the U.S. continues to rank among the highest in the world, most American students who enroll in college will never graduate. Overall, the U.S. postsecondary completion rate currently ties for tenth among industrialized nations. Only about 25 percent of low-income students will earn a postsecondary degree and the rate for African American and Hispanic students drops to about 20 percent.

“College enrollment rates have grown rapidly over the past forty years, but completion rates haven’t kept pace,” said Hilary Pennington, who will direct the foundation’s postsecondary success work. “Getting students to college isn’t enough—we must help them get through college. We are proud to join other foundations that are already working on this important effort.”

The grants announced today reflect the foundation’s commitment to using data to shape its investments by building on the most promising programs and policies already underway, catalyzing innovation in areas where there has been limited success, and, over the longer term, bringing the most promising practices to scale.

First, the foundation will work to build commitment among key policymakers, educators, business, and community leaders to increase postsecondary completions rates. Grant-funded work will begin to establish an evidence base for change through awareness-raising research and reports, like Measuring Up, and the development of policy recommendations to drive greater access and completion. Additionally, given the nation’s economic challenges, it is critical now more than ever that young people are learning the skills necessary to prepare them for the future. 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.

“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 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 this problem. 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 to build on successful pilot programs within the Achieving the Dream network of schools. MDC will also support data systems in up to five states that are willing to 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 the Lumina Foundation, a charitable organization that invests in postsecondary success efforts. “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 aimed at ensuring young people have 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 in two- and four-year colleges. Initially piloted in Louisiana, the performance-based incentive program will grow to four areas around the country and give students cash and other benefits for enrolling in college full-time and maintaining a minimum GPA in colleges. Grantees such as YouthBuild and the National Employment Youth Coalition will work in San Francisco, Portland, Philadelphia, Columbus, and other U.S. cities to help low-income young adults get on a pathway to college.

The Gates Foundation will work with other philanthropic partners including: the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the College Access Foundation of California, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Robin Hood Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Since 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested nearly $4 billion in grants and scholarships to increase opportunity in the U.S. by improving high school graduation and college readiness rates, and expanding access to college. The postsecondary success initiative will build upon these investments to help the foundation and its partners prepare more young people for success in life and work, ultimately ensuring greater access to opportunity for more Americans.

Postsecondary Success Initiative Grants

Grants toward building commitment among key policymakers and business and community leaders ($8.9 million):

American Youth Work Center / Youth Today: The Newspaper on Youth Work ($750,000 over 3 years) to support journalistic coverage of the efforts to expand postsecondary credentialing for America’s youth, with special focus on the role of the youth service field. Youth Today’s candid reporting will identify and clarify issues facing high school-aged youth; highlight key factors, legislation and initiatives affecting postsecondary credentialing; examine relationships among sectors of the youth service and postsecondary credentialing fields; and spotlight evidence-based postsecondary best practices and lessons learned. In this way, the newspaper will help to increase awareness among key policy and program leaders of the importance of postsecondary credentialing and of the opportunities for the youth service field to play a critical role in securing the futures of our nation’s youth and our national economic well-being. Youth Today is a nationally distributed newspaper (circ. 10,000) published by the American Youth Work Center.
Media Contact: Bill Treanor, publisher, 202-785-0764.

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) ($400,000 over 1 year) will establish the Center on Postsecondary and Economic Success and provide technical assistance to the Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success state policy grantees. This grant expands CLASP’s existing work, supported by the Joyce and Ford Foundations, to help low-income adults earn marketable postsecondary credentials by reforming federal and state postsecondary education policy and aligning them with related workforce, adult education, and welfare policies. CLASP is a national non-profit that develops and advocates for policies at the federal, state, and local levels that strengthen families and create pathways to education and family-sustaining employment for low-income people.
Media Contact: Jeannette O’Connor, 202-302-3268

Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action ($600,000 over 2 years) to help build commitment at the state and national level to double the number of low-income young people who earn a postsecondary degree. Demos’ work will focus on the financial barriers young people face in completing college, from financial aid to housing costs, by producing new and credible research and developing a strong multi-state advocacy network. Over the next two years, Demos will hold a series of public forums in North Carolina, Ohio and New York; convene a national conference in 2009, in Washington, D.C.; publish research illuminating key trends—including The Economic State of Young America 2009 report; and develop a web-based information and engagement center for legislators, media, advocates, and concerned citizens. Demos is a national, non-partisan organization that combines research, policy development, and advocacy to influence public debates and catalyze change.
Media Contact: Timothy Rusch, 212-389-1407

Institute for Women’s Policy Research ($187,475 over 1 year) (IWPR) will conduct a policy review, promising practices analysis, and child care needs assessment that will address methods for encouraging participation and success in postsecondary education among low-income, young-adult single parents who are primarily women and disproportionately of color. IWPR will explore relevant literature; analyze available data; and interview practitioners and experts in the field at the national level, in a number of key states, and at selected community colleges. Since its founding in 1987, IWPR has conducted rigorous research and disseminated its findings to address the needs of women, promote public dialogue, and strengthen families, communities, and societies.
Media Contact: Elisabeth Crum, 202-785-5100

Jobs for America’s Graduates ($50,000 over 1 year) (JAG) to support a thought leader symposium of public and private decisionmakers dedicated to crafting a plan to scale up proven solutions for closing the gap in education and workforce outcomes for at-risk minority youth. With 600,000 youth served and a 28-year track record of success as a national model for dropout prevention and postsecondary transition, JAG, along with programs such as YouthBuild, stands out as a models that are cost-effective, accountable and scalable–the key criteria for targeting which programs, when more broadly applied will lead to measurable impacts in closing the achievement gap for minority youth. Thought leaders participating include: Governor John Baldacci of Maine, the National Urban League, La Raza, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation–led by Congressman Danny Davis, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and the Congressional Asian Pacific Caucus, members of the U.S. Congress serving on key committees for labor and education including Representative Buck McKeon and Senator George Voinovich, Senator Tom Carper, and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Private sector leaders and investors include Verizon, Archer Daniels Midland, AT&T, Shell, Verizon, Bank of America, Western Union, Citi, State Farm, ETS, and others.
Media Contact: Barbara Wolf, 202-549-5015

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education ($5.4 million over 3 years) to support publication and marketing of the National Center’s 2008 Measuring Up report, which profiles relative state performance in higher education affordability, completion rates, and other areas. This grant will support ongoing research and policy development that stems from the 2008 Measuring Up report, a fellows program for leading, young public policy experts in higher education, convenings of college presidents to discuss trends in affordability and completion rates for students, and communications help.
Media Contact: Daphne Borromeo, 408-792-3153

The Future of Children ($892,667 over 4 years) to support the production, dissemination, and outreach activities for four journals dealing with disadvantaged youth. Specifically, each volume will examine an issue that affects youth ages 16-26 as they try to improve their life circumstances and those of their children. The topics proposed are: Children in Fragile Families, Children and Youth in Immigrant Families, Work and Family Balance, and Postsecondary Education. The volumes will identify research and policies that show promise in helping disadvantaged youth break the cycle of poverty and climb the income, employment, and education ladders. The Future of Children is a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution. The project publishes two journals and policy briefs a year, and supports a number of complementary outreach and dissemination activities.
Media Contact: Elisabeth Donahue, 609-258-0340

Public Agenda ($469,954 over 1 year) is conducting a nationwide opinion research project that will examine the aspirations, obstacles, and decision points for young people regarding education beyond high school. The project’s centerpiece will be a landmark national survey of Americans aged 22-30 who have started a postsecondary education (PSE) program and either achieved a degree (or are en route to achieving one) or have had to leave the program (or are strongly considering leaving) without achieving a degree. Special steps will be taken to explore the circumstances of young people from low-income backgrounds. The survey will build on previous research by Public Agenda, a study called “Life after High School,” that examined basic college preparation and attendance issues among 18- to 25-year-olds. Public Agenda is a unique education and civic engagement organization founded in 1975 by former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and social scientist Daniel Yankelovich. Non-profit and non-partisan, Public Agenda works to help average citizens better understand critical policy issues and to help the nation’s leaders better understand the public’s point of view.
Media Contact: Shaheen Hasan, 212-686-6610 ext. 50

Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education ($212,150 over 1 year) (WICHE) will convene a meeting of state leaders to assist them with creating longitudinal data systems that link education with workforce data for public policy analysis and development. Leaders from the K-12 education, postsecondary, and workforce agencies in WICHE’s 15 member states will gather to foster collaborations within and between states among the responsible sectors and agencies, dispel myths about legal prohibitions on data sharing, and consider ways to surmount political barriers to improved analytical capacity. The meeting has been organized in partnership with the Data Quality Campaign in response to the need to improve statewide accountability systems and bolster workforce development throughout the West.
Media Contact: Annie Finnigan, 303-541-0273

Grants toward improving postsecondary education so students learn the skills they need more quickly ($33.2 million):

Harvard College ($1.9 million over 4 years) to support a four year quantitative research project focused on college enrollment and completion.
Media Contact: Kate House, 202-687-4922

Jobs for the Future ($3.3 million over 3 years) to build on the advances of the Breaking Through initiative and accelerate the scaling up of postsecondary on-ramps and supports.
Media Contact: Jass Stewart, 617-728-4446

Learning Point Associates ($879,868 over 3 years) a non-profit education organization with more than 20 years direct experience in educational research. This project will conduct research comparing for-profits and public two-year colleges on short-term and long-term labor market outcomes as well as specific program structuring and job placement practices. A central focus will be on ways these colleges address employers’ priorities. The study will look at the ways they work with employers, discover employers’ specific needs, and provide trusted credentials, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Media Contact: Shazia R. Miller, Ph.D., 312-288-7616

MDC ($16.5 million over 4 years) to identify the most promising work in remedial education being done by 15 community colleges and five states participating in the Achieving the Dream initiative. A team of seven partner organizations will support the colleges and states as they help more students move on to college-level work by collecting and analyzing student data, developing innovative programs, and creating a network to share what they’ve learned. The expertise and capacity of the national Achieving the Dream partnership will provide leadership, infrastructure, and support for the work.
Media Contact: Richard Hart, 919-968-4531 x344

University of California, Los Angeles ($7.6 million over 5 years) to support the University of California’s All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity to conduct a research project focused on low-income young adults’ opportunities and obstacles on the path to postsecondary education. The objective of the study is to deepen our understanding of the needs, desires and challenges faced by 16-26-year-olds in several high poverty California communities and to use this information to create the better conditions for student success in postsecondary education and the labor market.
Media Contact: Daniel Solorzano, UCLA, or Amanda Datnow, UCSD

Workforce Strategy Center ($208,900 over 1 year) to research effective employer engagement models throughout the U.S. with an emphasis on those efforts targeted at low income young adults. The outcome will be a report and interactive tool to be used by local sites to help them determine which models apply to their regions.
Media Contact: Julian L. Alssid, 646-205-3240 x101

Grants toward strengthening student supports so more young people complete the postsecondary programs they start ($26.8 million):

The Forum for Youth Investment ($1.2 million over 3 years) to identify and cultivate opportunities to affirm the importance of postsecondary credentials for low-income and disconnected youth within its network of partners, people, and places. The Forum is an “action tank” dedicated to helping national, state, and local leaders ensure that all young people are Ready by 21® -- ready for college, work, and life. The Forum’s Ready by 21 national partners include the United Way of America, the American Association of School Administrators, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the National Collaboration for Youth, the National Conference of State Legislators, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Search Institute. In addition, the Forum manages the State Children’s Cabinet Network, the Youth Policy Action Center, the Next Generation Youth Work Coalition, and the online communications vehicle Connect for Kids. Each of these efforts offers opportunities to reach key leaders in policy, planning, and practice.
Media Contact: Caitlin Johnson, 434-409-0366

MDRC ($13 million over 4 years) will expand its Performance-Based Scholarship Demonstration, which provides scholarships directly to low-income students that are tied to attendance and academic performance to build evidence about their effects on student outcomes. More than 4,500 students will receive scholarships at two- and four-year institutions in four states: Borough of Manhattan and Hostos Community Colleges in New York City (with support from the Robin Hood Foundation); Lorain County, Owens, and Sinclair Community Colleges in Ohio (with support from both the Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services); the University of New Mexico; and state-wide in California through the California Cash for College program in partnership with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the California Student Aid Commission (with support from the College Access Foundation of California).
Media Contact: John Hutchins, Communications Director, 212-340-8604

The Corps Network ($750,000 over 1 year) to support development of a business plan to take youth Service and Conservation Corps to scale, as part of a strategy to better channel disconnected young people into and through postsecondary education and meaningful work credentials. The grant also supports the Civic Justice Corps, a program that engages court-involved and formerly incarcerated young men and women in service and service-learning to gain educationally, prepare for jobs in the green economy, and improve the communities in which they live. Currently, The Corps Network’s member Service and Conservation Corps operates in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Over 26,000 Corpsmembers, ages 16-25, contribute and generate more than 16 million hours of service annually to community and the environment.
Media Contact: Sarah Stankorb, 202-737-627

National Youth Employment Coalition ($5.6 million over 4 years) in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, will establish a pilot effort to build the capacity of a small network of organizations to support low-income youth and young adults to attain a postsecondary credential. The National Youth Employment Coalition is a national membership network of 250+ members in 40 states dedicated to improving the effectiveness of organizations that seek to help youth become productive citizens. NYEC strives to achieve its mission by tracking, crafting and informing policy; setting and promoting quality standards; promoting professional development, and; building the capacity of youth-serving organizations and systems.
Media Contact: Mala B. Thakur, Executive Director, 202-659-1064, Nick Lorenzen, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, 781-348-4239

Ounce of Prevention Fund ($305,719 over 1 year) will study existing supports and barriers to post-secondary education among young, low–income parents in Chicago, Denver, and Miami by partnering with scholars at Northwestern University and Columbia University. The study will include a diverse group of young parents, including African American parents in Chicago and Denver, and Hispanic parents in Denver and Miami. The Ounce will also design a pilot intervention program that uses early childhood education centers as a vehicle for supporting parents’ continuing educational development. If successful, the program could benefit many parents in several early childhood programs across the country.
Media Contact: Jelene Britten, 312-348-3997

YouthBuild USA, Somerville, MA ($6 million over 3 years) will provide technical assistance, training, funding and support to a cohort of seven local YouthBuild programs (YouthBuild Brockton, MA; Metro Atlanta YouthBuild AmeriCorps, Atlanta and Marietta, GA; YouthBuild Columbus, OH; YouthBuild McLean County Inc., Bloomington, IL; Operation Fresh Start Inc., Madison, WI; YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School, Philadelphia, PA; and Portland YouthBuilders, Portland, OR) to engage 1,500 low-income youth who have previously dropped out of school, to earn their GEDs or high school diplomas and attain postsecondary credentials. Each of these YouthBuild programs will partner with community colleges, four-year colleges and technical schools to test and institutionalize a comprehensive set of interventions that will ensure high rates of post-secondary enrollment and credential attainment by YouthBuild graduates.
Media Contact: Scott Emerick, Director of Higher Education, 617-741-1247

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.


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