Can $100 million help student success programs work together instead of competing?

Six nonprofits that help low-income and other disadvantaged students graduate from college will receive a $100 million cash infusion over the next five years to help hundreds of colleges transform their practices and cultures, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Thursday. .

The goal is to create networks of colleges that can partner with nonprofits to advance promising student success strategies. The foundation said the nonprofits the foundation has partnered with since 2019 have been particularly effective in identifying and reducing persistent achievement gaps among low-income, black, Latino, and Indigenous students. The nonprofit identifies and connects at least 250 colleges to help them accelerate change.

The recipients of $100 million are:

Foundation officials said the number of colleges is declining, costs are rising and public confidence in higher education is declining. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of undergraduates dropped by 6 percent, while the number of first-year students fell by 13 percent during that time. Meanwhile, 65 percent of jobs will require more than a high school education by 2030, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Students need convincing: A recent survey by Public Agenda found that two-thirds of Americans lack confidence in higher education.

In recent years, dozens of groups with student success programs have competed for financial support and attention on their campuses, and their strategies have been pushed aside to make room for the latest new initiative. The Gates Foundation hopes the umbrella groups it has identified can help colleges develop systems that allow them to put together remedial reform, curricular pathways and other strategies it says have shown promise.

The foundation has heard from college presidents that it’s a lonely, isolating gig, and would do well to learn from other colleges what works and what doesn’t, said Patrick Methvin, the foundation’s director of secondary education success.

The foundation describes the transformation it wants to promote as “reshaping the structure, business model, and culture of the institution to significantly improve student outcomes and educational value, and to eliminate race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status as predictors of success.”

The Association of State Colleges announced the award on its website, saying the funds would help renew practices at 19 different colleges and universities that serve more than 228,000 students, nearly half of whom receive Pell Grants. The association requires colleges of its choice to assemble teams of key campus leaders and ensure presidential involvement.

Michael L. Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund, said in a written statement that the grant will allow his group to expand its Capacity Building Institute’s efforts to improve enrollment, graduation, internship and work placement rates. its member colleges. “Advancing Black higher education through institutional transformation is in UNCF’s DNA,” Lomax said.

Carlos Ayala, president of Growing Inland Achievement, a regional effort for elementary, middle and post-secondary education in Southern California, said collaboration between colleges would be key. “To be successful in this work, we need to meet with our colleges and universities where they are on their student success journeys and dig deep into the root causes that contribute to inequities among historically marginalized populations,” he said.

Consortium officials said tribal colleges that benefit from American Indian Consortium support can expand student success efforts in ways that value their unique tribal identities and cultures.

Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America, summed up why she thinks the award comes at a crucial time. “College costs are rising, enrollment is declining, public confidence in education is declining, and the gains in college access, equity and completion that we fought so hard to achieve are at risk,” he said. “We cannot allow these risks to take hold in the long term.”

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