If efforts by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve completion rates at community colleges prove successful, it could change the economic and educational fortunes of millions of low-income and minority students who attend those schools. If it fails, critics say, the foundation’s efforts could exacerbate the expanding economic divide in the United States, and damage the democratic process.
One thing is certain: The Gates Foundation is putting its money where its mouth is to the tune of spending nearly a half-billion dollars, according to a 2011 tax report, as part of a 20-year mission to fix higher education. The foundation is in year five of that mission, with a goal to double the number of low-income U.S. students who have completed a degree or credential at age 26 by 2020.
“We see this as a natural evolution,” says Daniel Greenstein, Gates Foundation’s director of education, Postsecondary Success Strategy. “The foundation has always been interested in student success.”
He said the university and college systems aren’t really equipped to help college students succeed, given that the majority of today’s enrollees are “nontraditional” students — low-income, part-time, first-generation college goers, commuting students who are more likely to work full time. <Read more.>