The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced a $9 million package of grants that aim to significantly boost the number of students who attain a high-quality and affordable postsecondary credential. These grants support a range of innovators from within and outside the postsecondary education system who are creating options that fit with the busy lives of today’s learners, enabling them to earn a credential with value in the labor market without incurring significant debt.
“We have to challenge ourselves to rethink our long-standing assumptions about postsecondary education in the United States,” said Josh Jarrett, deputy director of Postsecondary Success, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Postsecondary education faces very real challenges in helping more students, particularly low-income students and students of color. Seat capacity is tight, tuition is skyrocketing, completion rates are low, and millions are unqualified for highly skilled jobs. We have to do something differently, and that’s what these investments in breakthrough learning models are about.” The Gates Foundation is announcing grants to several postsecondary initiatives that are fundamentally redesigning how students learn, how they are supported in that process, and how the postsecondary business model works to support affordable student success.
The foundation’s investments include the following:
- $3.3 million to EDUCAUSE for four winners of the Next Generation Learning Challenges' latest RFP. These winners span state systems, four-year and two-year programs, and all have signed up to deliver significant improvements in completion at scale, as well as affordable tuition rates of $5,000/year or less.
- $3 million to MyCollege Foundation to establish a non-profit college that will blend adaptive online learning solutions with a suite of services to enable students to earn high-quality college degrees at a low cost.
- $1 million to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop and offer a new, free prototype computer science online course through edX, a joint venture between MIT and Harvard, and partner with a postsecondary institution that targets low-income young adults to experiment with use of the course in a “flipped classroom” where lectures take place outside the classroom and homework is done in class. Lessons learned will be captured and shared to advance understanding of how faculty and students use and benefit from online learning tools, as well as how these courses may be adapted to support on-campus learning and a broader range of learners.
- $1 million to the Research Foundation of the City University of New York (CUNY) to support the launch of the New Community College (NCC) at CUNY, a bold endeavor to create the first new CUNY college in four decades. The NCC has developed a program based on high impact practices that will lead students along clearly defined educational pathways from a required summer bridge program to the first-year integrated common curriculum and then through structured pathways for a limited number of majors. Upon graduation, students will be ready to transfer to a four-year college and/or enter the job market. NCC’s initial target for its first cohort of 300 students to enter this fall is a three-year graduation rate of 35 percent.
- $500,000 to University of the People (UoPeople) to support the pursuit of accreditation. UoPeople is the world’s first tuition-free, non-profit, online academic institution dedicated to opening access to higher education globally. Based on the principles of e-learning and peer-to-peer learning, coupled with open-source technology and Open Educational Resources, UoPeople is designed to provide qualified individuals, despite financial, geographic or societal constraints, access to undergraduate degree programs.
- $450,000 to the League for Innovation in the Community College to develop and pilot a national consortium of leading online two- and four-year colleges that will help increase seat capacity in the community college system and support more low-income young adults in attaining a postsecondary credential—in less time and at lower cost—without leaving their home community. This consortium, entitled Learning First, will initially include Coastline Community College (CA), the University of Massachusetts Online, Pennsylvania State World Campus, and the University of Illinois-Springfield.
Grantees are employing a diverse range of strategies and features, including competency-based learning, online and hybrid formats, open education resources, adaptive assessment and social media. All grantees are focused on quality that can be widely replicated, and will participate in a common evaluation to understand program quality, impact on student outcomes such as time to and cost of completion, and costs of delivery compared to traditional learning models. Each of these grants is part of a larger effort to spread best practices and promising models across the postsecondary sector.
“We are excited about this new package of grants,” said Jarrett. “We need to try new models to postsecondary education because students are demanding quality, affordable options and our nation needs more highly skilled graduates. We are thrilled to support these innovators in demonstrating what’s possible and learning what works. We’re motivated by challenges like whether twice as many students can complete a quality postsecondary credential on time and at half the cost. We hope the answer is yes and think we have an obligation to students around the country to be asking the question.”