In a new article from the Associated Press, the connection between a bad economy and community college enrollment increases is explored:
For students, that’s because of the economy, which is boosting interest in two-year schools as a cheaper starting point for a bachelor’s degree. They’re also the place for job retraining, with unemployment at a 14-year high of 6.5 percent. A community colleges group estimates enrollment is up about 8 percent this fall.
However, the writer takes it one step further to explore the growing interest private partners have in working with community colleges, which educate more than half of the nation’s college students, to see that more students graduate.
The new philanthropic attention was underscored last week when the giant Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would spend up to half a billion dollars over the next four years on a college completion initiative.
The goal is doubling the current proportion of about 25 percent of low-income people who earn a postsecondary credential. And it was notable that officials said the initial focus would be on two-year schools.
“More young people are enrolled in college this year than ever before,” Melinda Gates said at the Seattle conference where the initiative was announced. “But the payoff doesn’t come with enrolling in college; the payoff comes when a student gets a postsecondary degree that helps them get a job with a family wage.”
The involvement of the Gates Foundation is significant, not just because of their deep pockets, but also because of the influence they have in this arena.
The Gates announcement follows several other prominent foundations, including Lumina, Kellogg and Ford, that have recently begun focusing on community colleges, said Carol Lincoln, the national director of Achieving the Dream, an initiative working with 84 institutions on localized, bottom-up programs to improve student success rates.
But the Gates initiative sends a big signal, not only because of the foundation’s size — it had assets of $35.1 billion as of Oct. 1 — but also because Gates is known for rigorously researching its funding choices to determine where it can make the most difference.
“When people hear the Gates Foundation is considering investing in something it attracts attention,” Lincoln said. “I think it’s going to be a tremendous impact.”
Considering the budgetary stress that Virginia and so many other states are facing, the timing of these types of partnerships and investments could not be better.
Posted by Jeff Kraus