Colleges get $16.5M to boost graduation rates

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MDC Inc. have announced $16.5 million in grants to 15 community colleges and five states to expand innovative remedial education programs that experts say are key to boosting the college completion rates of low-income and minority students.

The grants are the latest step toward fulfilling the foundation’s pledge last year to double the number of college graduates who come from low-income families. (See "Gates Foundation targets college graduation.")

A recent report from Jobs for the Future found that that nearly 60 percent of students enrolling in the nation’s community colleges must take remedial classes to build their basic academic skills. For low-income and minority students, the figure topped 90 percent at some colleges. Remedial classes cost taxpayers more than $2 billion a year, the foundation said–money that is mostly wasted as few students even complete the classes, let alone continue on to graduate.

The grants announced June 22 will fund the Developmental Education Initiative, which will build upon the most promising programs developed through "Achieving the Dream: Community Colleges Count," a multi-year national initiative to boost graduation rates at community colleges. The remedial education models developed by the 15 community colleges receiving these grants represent some of the most promising work in the country aimed at boosting college completion rates among struggling students, the Gates Foundation said.

The lessons learned through "Achieving the Dream"–such as streamlining high school and college standards, using technology to boost basic skills, and leveraging the power of mentorships–are proving that these students can succeed when colleges develop programs that fit students’ needs, the foundation said in a press release.

More than 133,000 students reportedly take remedial education classes in the 15 community colleges selected for these grants. The number of students moving from remedial to college-level courses reportedly improved 16 to 20 percent through these selected programs.

"The pressing need to shore up weak academic skills in first-year students is one of the most significant, but least discussed, problems confronting higher education," said Carol Lincoln, director of the Developmental Education Initiative and national director of "Achieving the Dream" for MDC. "Colleges that can figure out how to quickly and efficiently boost basic skills, particularly among students of color and low-income students, will play a leading role in helping them earn the college degrees necessary for economic success in America today."

The grants also will support state-level efforts in Connecticut, Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia to implement new data collection systems that will help them better track the success of their remedial programs. A sixth state, North Carolina, will participate with its own funding. These states also have pledged to measure their progress against those in other states.

"Too many institutions have not developed powerful and effective ways to accelerate academic progress for students who start college underprepared," said Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success, and special initiatives at the Gates Foundation. "By working together, states, community colleges, and local school districts can design programs to accelerate high-quality learning and shorten the amount of time it takes to earn a degree."

Connecticut’s Norwalk Community College, for example, will receive $743,000 over three years to align its remedial math and English programs with college-credit courses, as well as help students develop e-portfolios to assess their work.

Ohio’s Cuyahoga Community College will receive the same amount to incorporate mentoring and tutoring both online and in person, as well as train faculty to integrate collaborative learning into their course design. And Patrick Henry Community College in Virginia will refine a diagnostic tool that identifies risk factors in remedial students and guides their placement in appropriate interventions.


Bill & Melinda Gate Foundation

Full list of grant winners

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