The initiative will fund practices that help prepare students for college completion.

The initiative will fund practices that help prepare students for college completion.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Oct. 11 announced the Next Generation Learning Challenges, a collaborative, multi-year initiative that aims to help dramatically improve college readiness and college completion in the United States through the use of technology tools and educational technology. The program will award grants to organizations and innovators to expand promising technology tools to more students, teachers, and schools. It is led by the nonprofit EDUCAUSE, which works to advance higher education through the use of information technology.

Next Generation Learning Challenges released the first of a series of requests for proposals (RFPs) on Oct. 11 to solicit funding proposals for technology applications that can improve postsecondary education. This round of funding will total up to $20 million, including grants that range from $250,000 to $750,000. Applicants with top-rated proposals will receive funds to expand their programs and demonstrate effectiveness in serving larger numbers of students. Proposals are due Nov. 19, 2010; winners are expected to be announced by March 31, 2011.

“American education has been the best in the world, but we’re falling below our own high standards of excellence for high school and college attainment,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’re living in a tremendous age of innovation. We should harness new technologies and innovation to help all students get the education they need to succeed.”

Next Generation Learning Challenges invites proposals from technologists and institutions within the education community, but also innovators and entrepreneurs outside the traditional education arena that can show promising results. The initiative will fund RFPs approximately every six to 12 months. The RFP released on Oct. 11 seeks proposals that address four specific challenges:
•    Increasing the use of blended learning models, which combine face-to-face instruction with online learning activities;
•    Deepening students’ learning and engagement through the use of interactive applications, such as digital games, interactive video, immersive simulations, and social media;
•    Supporting the availability of high-quality open courseware, particularly for high-enrollment introductory classes like math, science, and English, which often have low rates of student success; and
•    Helping institutions, instructors, and students benefit from learning analytics, which can monitor student progress in real-time and customize proven supports and interventions.

Organizations collaborating on the effort include the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Each offers deep, practical expertise in educational instruction, leadership, and management.

A postsecondary degree or credential is crucial for both a strong economy and the financial security of American families. Careers requiring postsecondary education or training will make up 63 percent of all job openings by 2018. However, while access to higher education has improved, the rate of college completion has not. By age 30, fewer than half of all Americans have earned a college degree. For low-income and minority students, the situation is even bleaker.

The Gates Foundation also released a white paper outlining how educational technology can help students and educators dramatically improve student outcomes, both in high schools and in postsecondary education.