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Gates Gives $12M to Four Cities to Boost College Completion

Four U.S. cities will receive $3 million each in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for programs to improve college graduation rates, the foundation announced today.

New York City; San Francisco; Mesa, Ariz.; and Riverside, Calif., will receive the funds as part of the Communities Learning in Partnership Initiative, led by the National League of Cities' Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

The money will flow in over the next three years and be used to align academic standards between high school and college, strengthen data systems, implement early assessment and college prep strategies, and create support systems to help boost college completion rates in the four cities.

"Education is absolutely the gateway to opportunity, and it's never been more true than it is today," said Allan Golston, president of the U.S. Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "A high school diploma is no longer enough. Education beyond high school is critical for young people to have a livable wage and for the country to complete in the global economy."

The grants emphasize partnerships among cities, community colleges, and public school systems to come up with solutions to help students be successful in postsecondary education.

Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success, and special initiatives for the U.S. Program at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, applauded the mayors of the four chosen cities for being willing to set goals and have their progress publicly tracked. The grant winners recognize that K-12 and postsecondary systems need to work together and that building broad stakeholder networks is critical to success, she told reporters in a conference call announcing the grant winners.

In San Francisco, about 27 percent of ninth graders go on to earn postsecondary credentials. The new citywide partnership between the City College of San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District
will focus on aligning high school and college curriculum, providing better counseling to help students navigate through college, and enhancing work experiences tied to education to increase graduation rates. The goal is to increase the college completion rate by 20 percent over the next 10 years.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said these types of partnerships help build capacity and create pathways for excellence. "There is nothing more important than creating a college-going culture," he said today. "This grant will help us in that effort. ... It's time for real innovation and new collaboration."

Dennis Walcott, New York City's deputy mayor for education and community development, said the Gates Foundation money will help improve efforts to define college readiness and align common academic standards between the K-12 system and the City University of New York. It also will support better coordination in advising. Now, about 10 percent of students enrolled as freshman at CUNY earn a degree three years later. The aim is to increase that to 25 percent by 2020.

Mesa has one of the largest school districts in Arizona and the largest community college, yet there is a huge gap in getting students to move into postsecondary education. Mesa Mayor Scott Smith called this a "perplexing problem" that hurts the city's ability to attract quality jobs. The Gates grant money will focus especially on helping low-income students succeed in college. Mesa Community College will partner with the Mesa Public Schools and the city with the goal of increasing college graduation rates from 8 percent to 16 percent in 10 years.

Riverside's grant money will be invested in improving early assessment and accelerated college prep strategies for students. The city, school, and college partners also will bring employers to advise students, and establish a public information hub for improving college success. Associate degree completion is the immediate goal in Riverside, with a target of 20 percent completion by 2013, up from the current rate of 14 percent.

Seven cities had applied for the four competitive grants. Pennington said it would not be an annual competition.

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